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Life and Arts

The Valley Line: Aspiring chefs given taste of success with Hillsides dinner

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Sommer Cripps, from left, Breanne Collier and Jesse Cripps at the Hillsides’ Culinary Apprenticeship Dinner on Aug. 25. Jesse Cripps is the Hillsides board chair and lives in La Cañada Flintridge.
(Courtesy of Alison Bell)

Ten youths from the Youth Moving On Program at Hillsides were shining stars Aug. 25 as they prepared a gourmet dinner for 65 guests. Jesse Cripps, a La Cañada Flintridge resident and president of Hillsides board, and his wife, Sommer, were there to enjoy the evening of exquisite food and delightful companionship.

The 10 aspiring and inspired chefs had only 10 weeks to learn the rudiments of cooking, customer service and kitchen etiquette while participating in the Youth Moving On (YMO) summer culinary apprenticeship program. Assisting them that evening were four local professional chefs who watched over them as they prepared and served a flawless five-course “Summer in the Garden” dinner.

The delicious menu consisted of parmesan-stuffed mushrooms and vegetarian carrot ceviche with tostaditos for appetizers; a salad with mixed lettuce, stone fruit, burrata and griddled ciabatta crostini for the first course; rigatoni with cherry tomatoes and basil pesto for the second course, and grilled and sliced flat iron steak with arugula shallot chimichurri, corn pudding and seasonal farmer’s market vegetables. For dessert, the chefs-in-training prepared brown sugar blackberry upside down baby cakes with cardamom gelato.

Working hard in the kitchen along with the youths were professional chefs Claud Beltran, co-owner and chef at Bacchus’ Kitchen in Pasadena and co-owner of Claud & Co. Catering; Charlie Negrete, former chef director of the culinary job training program at LA Kitchen who has worked under Michelin-starred chefs and five-star establishments; Alexandra Poer, chef-owner of the boutique catering group alexandra’s table and Geoff Jennings, owner of Nomad Ice Pops. Doug Fore, the executive chef/director for Hacienda La Puente Adult Education Culinary Arts program and the owner of two restaurants in West Covina, also helped train the apprentices but was unable to attend the final dinner.

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Chef Charlie Negrete, from left, chef Geoff Jennings, Joe Costa, chef Alexandra Poer, chef Claud Beltran, Correnda Perkins and Joshua Mathieu are shown at the Hillsides’ Culinary Apprenticeship Dinner. Costa is president and chief executive of Hillsides.
(Courtesy of Alison Bell)
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Each week during the 10-week program, one of the participating chefs gave the youth a cooking lesson, from grilling vegetables to searing steaks to preparing salads. Starbucks was also another important partner in the program. Overseen by Starbucks district manager Jennifer Vanderpool, local Starbucks managers provided customer service workshops for the youth and treated the chef apprentices to a fun day behind the counter at a Pasadena Starbucks where they learned how to make their favorite coffee drinks. Starbucks also provided coffee at the “Summer in the Garden” dinner.

The Culinary Apprenticeship program is a pilot, and YMO hopes to continue it in the future with new groups of youth.

At the end of the dinner, Joshua Mathieu, YMO’s workforce development specialist, presented the youth with a certificate and read from the participants’ prepared statements about what they each liked best about the program. One youth, Ricky Porter, said that “he fell in love with the entire process,” and was inspired even more to open up his own café. Other chef apprentices’ highlights included the friendships made, the togetherness forged in the kitchen, and the chance to learn from notable chefs.

Mathieu also presented the chefs with personalized wooden spoons to commemorate their participation. During the evening, guests watched a short video with highlights of the 10-week program.

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What better way to end a summer of music in the park than with the songs of Neil Diamond sung by Dean Colley and his band, A Hot August Night.

It was technically a September night, since Sunday was the first day of this brand new month. But still, the word “hot” was definitely an appropriate definition of the weather when nearly 1,000 people brought their kids, dogs, grandmothers and friends to say farewell to the 2019 Music in the Park concert series concerts sponsored by the city of La Cañada Flintridge.

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It was a packed Memorial Park at last Sunday’s night’s end of the summer concert with a Neil Diamond tribute band, Hot August Night, featuring Dean Cooley.
(Jane Napier Neely/La Cañada Valley Sun)

Memorial Park was so packed you could barely find a square inch on the grass to put your blanket, chair and picnic basket. The cement dance floor in front of the bandstand was also jam-packed with dancers. Everybody loves the music of Neil Diamond!

Cooley has been singing at our park for a lot of years and he has always been a favorite. Some say his Hot August Night tribute band is the best in the nation. Anyway, La Cañadans love his music and will no doubt be looking forward to his performance next year.

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