You would never know this busy kitchen is actually a class inside Rochester’s East High School.
But thanks to Jeff Christiano – or “Chef Jeff” as he is called by just about everyone – this classroom also doubles as a kitchen for a student-run restaurant.
“We started it as a club to begin with and the interest was immediate,” Christiano said. “I didn’t expect it to have the popularity it has now.”
Christiano was the chef at Woodcliff when he was approached by the school to come teach. He jumped at the opportunity, because he remembers what it was like to be in high school
“I always wanted to get my hands dirty, be in the middle of something,” he said. “The kids in this program are the same type of kids. They are active, they want to do something, create something, produce something.”
The program started in 2000. There are 130 students in this program and they range in age from grades 9-12.
“It just exploded. Kids loved it,” said Christiano. “It became one of the most popular programs here.”
On this day, they were busy preparing empanadas for an event being held after school. Outside, there is also a garden so students can grow vegetables that are used in the kitchen.
“I like the freedom the program gives us,” said Juan Santiago, a student in the program. “He teaches us what to do, but then he lets us do it our own way.”
And he must be doing something right – because there are a lot of success stories coming out of here.
“It always blows my mind that they can come from this little classroom at east high school,” Christiano said. “I’ve got a student right now at St. John University in New York. He’s the private chef for their basketball team. Exclusive.”
“He’s a great teacher. Kind of like an in-school dad,” Santiago said. “He’s wonderful, good with students, really caring and respectable. He cares for the students.”
A recipe for success – with some sweet rewards.