There was a lot to love at the Culinary Education Center (CEC) on Feb. 12, as Brookdale culinary students served up a five-course feast for the center’s annual Valentine’s Day Dinner.
Featuring everything from an artisanal French cheese platter and stuffed crepes with escargot to duck l’orange, filet mignon and flourless chocolate cake, the special holiday menu was truly worthy of adoration.
As in years past, the event drew a packed house of couples both young and old, looking to share a five-star meal and celebrate Valentine’s Day just a couple days early.
“This is always one of our most popular events,” said associate culinary arts professor Chef Michelle Zuppe. “It’s a wonderful dining experience for the community and, for our students, it’s a great learning experience. A night like this really helps prepare them for the next level.”
The busy event was a welcome challenge for Brookdale’s culinary students, who serve as chefs, bakers, waiters, hostesses and even sommeliers at various culinary center dinner services and events throughout the year.
Between its on-site bakery and full-service restaurant, the CEC served more than 4,000 community members last year alone, according to CEC co-director and Principal Michael Sirianni.
“We have a very good reputation, and we work very hard to maintain it year after year,” Sirianni said. “The students are great, and everyone who works here is from the food service industry. It’s that passion that enables us to have this successful program. I think that’s our secret ingredient.”
The CEC, a collaboration between Brookdale and the Monmouth County Vocational School District, has been wildly successful since first opening 19 years ago.
Countless aspiring chefs and food service professionals have learned the skills and made the right connections at the CEC begin acclaimed restaurant careers in New Jersey and beyond.
Andrew Araneo, a James Beard Award finalist and chef of the critically acclaimed Drew’s Bayshore Bistro in Keyport, beat celebrity chef Bobby Flay in a voodoo shrimp “throwdown” in 2013. Matt Levine, chef of Coastal Chaos in Brick, took second place on the Food Network program “Rewrapped” in the fall of 2014. And just last month, CEC graduate and Manhattan-based chef Emily Chapman took the $10,000 top prize on the Food Network program “Chopped.”
“If you go out to dinner in the Monmouth County area, you can rest assured that you will run into someone from this program,” Sirianni said.
In addition to its world class equipment and professionally trained faculty and staff, the CEC also boasts Brookdale’s five-star culinary arts curriculum.
In January, the college’s culinary arts program was officially accredited by the accrediting commission of the American Culinary Federation Education Foundation (ACFEF), an honor awarded only to those programs that meet the ACF’s strict standards for curriculum and teaching practices.
“As we were going through the accreditation process, the one word that students kept mentioning was family. They said it feels like a family here, and they’re right,” said associate culinary arts Professor Michelle Zuppe. “Our graduates move on, start their careers, then come back to hire CEC graduates. That’s one of the reasons this program remains so successful today.”
For more information on Brookdale’s culinary arts program, click here.
To make a reservation for lunch or dinner at the Culinary Education Center, call 732-988-3299. After 4 pm call 732-502-5171.
Check out more photos of the Valentine’s Day dinner here.