Mousse, cheesecake and cupcakes baked in a variety of flavors were among the offerings at the posh Vine to Wine fundraiser at The Regent in Riverview, where behind the serving tables a quartet of students from Seffner’s Armwood High School made their presence known.
“Football is the draw of the school, we all know that,” said veteran teacher Bruce Burnham. “But it’s not just football. It’s a wonderful high school with strong academic programs and a place to get certified in a field, like the culinary arts.”
Burhnam, who for years has run an oral history and publication program that pairs Armwood students with Vietnam War veterans, was at The Regent on May 2 to oversee a group of students for his colleague Paul Shaffer, the culinary arts teacher, who was at an event that night in Plant City with another group of students displaying their culinary talents.
“Our teacher is passionate (about the culinary arts),” said freshman Keysha Pizarro, about Shaffer. “He’s really amazing and he showed us that there’s more to the culinary arts than just cooking.”
“You have to know what you’re doing,” she added. “We do a lot of book work. We don’t just go into the kitchen and cook. There’s a lot of things to learn, like how to cut properly, measurements, how to saute properly and all the different ways of cooking.”
Pizarro joined classmates Rico Stone, Maelys Rivera and Angel Rivera, no relation, in discussing why they were drawn to a culinary arts curriculum.
Pizarro said cooking is in her blood.
Her brother, Fernando Pizarro, 19, was on track to graduate from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Orlando. With their mother, Olga Isaac, and grandmother, Julia Perez, Pizzaro said they were set to open the Latin Taste Cuisine restaurant in Seffner, at 1113 W. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., in June.
“I’ve always been passionate about food,” Keysha Pizarro said. “I come from Puerto Rico, where our culture is big on food. I like, too, the satisfaction of working with other people.”
Count among them junior Rico Stone, who, like Pizarro, has a lifelong passion for food, and especially “soul food,” which he described as “peach cobbler, collard greens and fried chicken.”
“Growing up, cooking was always around my family,” he said. “Every Sunday we were baking and cooking meals.”
At Armwood, he learned of the culinary arts program and quickly signed up.
“I like to put a smile on people’s faces when they eat my food,” he said. “I would like to own my own restaurant one day, to give back to the community.”
At The Regent on May 2, Armwood students served more than 20 different desserts, including white chocolate and raspberry mousse, key lime cupcakes and caramel apple cheesecake. The occasion was the Vine to Wine fundraiser, hosted by the Trey Curry Foundation in support of A Kid’s Place in Brandon, a residential facility for abused, neglected or abandoned children.
In addition to catering in the community, the culinary arts students back at Armwood run a school-based bistro and cook lunches for students, faculty and staff.
“I was 7 and the first thing I ever made was a grilled cheese sandwich,” he said. “My family loved it and I still make it to this day.”
He added that he grew up watching “Emeril Live” on the Food Network and when he got to Armwood, he took the opportunity to delve even more deeply into his hobby.
“I didn’t know they had culinary arts classes,” he said. “When I found out they did, I went for it.”