Second Annual Alumni Dinner can’t be Described

February 8, 2019

by Len Lathrop

After last year’s event, expectations were high for a fantastic dinner.  Well, once again, not a taste bud in the Checkers Restaurant in Alvirne High School was disappointed as every course was outstanding, not to mention the incredible entree that left no room for things to get any better.

As the food was above expectations, don’t dismiss the guidance of the five professional chefs directing the student work force to better these tastes for you.  The pros were there before the students and it was exciting to listen to what they were bringing to the table.  Then to see the interaction with these talented students was even better.

2002 Alvirne graduate Joe Allison, who is the executive chef at Nashua Country Club, brought selected hors d’oeuvres to the diners, as they gathered in the hallway outside the restaurant.  Students loaded the bamboo skewers with chicken, piped filling into fancy cones, rolled pinwheels and marinated shrimp and rolled spring rolls.  Have you ever had a stuffed quail egg?  The 70 diners had to be somewhat full before they even got to their seats.  Student servers learned how to balance trays of goodies and to hand out napkins.

This was Chef Allison’s second year as a contributor to the alumni diner.  Joe credits the Alvirne program to “opening my eyes to the passion I have for food and making people happy.  If the culinary program did not exist at AHS, I am not sure where I would be today.”  Not only do these professionals work with the students, they provide the ingredients for the course they are preparing.  After Alvirne, Allison earned an Associate of Science degree in culinary arts and a bachelor’s in hospitality management from Southern NH University.  Dinner for Allison’s three children, Joey, Julia and Jillian, must be special as Joe’s wife, Krystal, is a 2003 culinary arts graduate.

The guests were seated and it was time for soup.  Chef Nicole Barriera, Class of 2002, corporate chef, T-Bones and Cactus Jack, marketing manager, Great NH Restaurants had been slicing and dicing with a different student from about 4 p.m. She had talked about being sure the chicken pieces were roughly the same size so they all roasted about the same to making sure the corn was roasted to release its sugars.  The tomatoes were cut to have a piece of skin on every one while the peppers and onions were chopped to the same size, then into a pot where a paddle was need to stir. As the plating time was getting close, tortillas were cut into strips and roasted to the proper length and width for the topping.

Chef Barriera, better known as Chef Nicole, and famous for her pink chef’s coat, which she wears at many public events where she has been a sought after lecturer and you can turn on WMUR to see the pink chef jacket at work.  With an associate’s in Culinary Arts, a Bachelor of Science in Hotel/Restaurant Management, and then a master’s in organizational leadership and a Graduate Certificate in marketing from SNHU.  Even though her role with the Great NH Restaurants has taken her away from food preparation and into menu planning and marketing, her knife skills and tips for the students showed she was on her game.

In talking about her time at Alvirne, “The program provided a solid culinary foundation for my future and confidence in the industry.  Having experienced the program and venturing into the culinary field during and soon after, I felt I had a tremendous advantage in so many areas. Knowledge of the commercial kitchen, equipment, verbiage, knife skills, prep skills, and work ethic required were so helpful.”  She admits spending 99 percent of her spare time with her family.  “I have three beautiful children; Chloe, 7; Gabriella, 6; and Axl, 1.  The kids, daddy, and I go on lots of adventures, travel, and eat at as many food establishments as possible.”  Should she have said, “checking out food establishments?”

Once the soup bowls were empty, the student servers had another course prepared: this time an appetizer of mushroom, goat cheese and bacon crepe filled with a roasted red pepper pesto prepared by Chef Sarah (Dussault) Russell from the Class of 2009 and a chef at the Restoration Cafe in Manchester.  Students watched her roll as the crepes were filled, in her first time at the Alumni culinary event, you could see her watch all the action around the kitchen.  Growing up in a culinary family, Sarah spoke about her love of cooking.”

“From a very young age, I wanted to be a cook.  I grew up in the kitchen.  I have many fond memories of going to work with my dad, who was an executive banquet chef at the Sheraton, Nashua.  In middle school and early high school, I took every cooking class available.  I loved it!  My three years of Alvirne’s Culinary Arts program, prepared me for college and work in the culinary arts field.”

The guests cleansed their palates with an Intermezzo of pineapple orange sorbet prepared by the Alvirne students under the watchful eye of Chef Dave Bressler.  Several culinary students, who are on the football team, scooped and plated this frozen delight using some serious forearm muscle.

Time for the entree, here is how it read on the menu:  Homestead Acres Chicken Roulade, Crispy Peking Duck Spring Roll, Whipped Potatoes Querelle, Roasted Carrots, Wilted Garlic Spinach, Reduced Chicken Glace. Chef Bressler introduced the diners and the students to an entree that most likely cannot be found anywhere on the East Coast.  First, start with chicken raised by Alan Simoneau on his farm in Hudson, then skin it, saving skin in whole pieces and debone it, separate the breast meat from the dark meat, pound the breast, season the dark meat with herbs and spices, then spread in the middle of the breast meat and roll into about a 2- to 3-inch about a foot long, then wrap in the chicken skin and poach and then sauté. When sliced, it is a large medallion of goodness.  Plated with the potato, carrots, and spinach under a reduced chicken glaze and served with a spring roll of Peking duck, also from the Homestead farm, should make you ask when is the next event and where do I get tickets?

Dessert finishes almost everything, and what a happy ending it was for the dinners as they enjoyed a Profiterole filled with Chocolate Mousse with Raspberry Coulis and Caramel Sauce, all handmade in the Checkers’ kitchen.

In addition to the alumni chefs working to make this array of delicacies happen was Chef David Quimby from the culinary program at Nashua North Technology Center and the Checkers’ kitchen chief cook and a kitchen veteran Shirley Nadeau.