Education Opportunity Center Students Share Taste of Victory

Chowder and chowder lovers alike poured into the Capital District Educational Opportunity Center’s dining hall on Oct. 24 to celebrate the culinary program’s first Troy Chowderfest victory.

At the 8th annual Troy Chowderfest on Oct. 12, the EOC’s Clam, Corn & Andouille Sausage Chowder with a Honey Biscuit placed second in the Judges’ Choice category, after Jack’s Oyster House in Albany.

The EOC’s recipe also placed third in the People’s Choice category.

EOC students Warren Burras, Matthew Maloney and Mary Narron cooked the award-winning chowder, which was developed by Culinary Arts associate professor Joseph Forget. “Believe it or not, [it didn’t] take long [to create]. I already had a recipe I wanted to do,” said Forget, who created the recipe from a combination of Cajun and New England style culinary influences.

The chef planned the recipe out two weeks before Chowderfest and taught it to the students several days in advance.

“I think it’s exciting that students at the EOC are in the company of restaurants like Jack’s Oyster House,” said Dennis Kennedy, director of communications and marketing at Hudson Valley.

“This was really above and beyond,” said Dr. Lucille Marion, vice president and executive director of the EOC in Troy. “The culinary profession is a difficult one. The EOC students bring a lot of stuff to the table that make pursuing a goal even more challenging to do that and balance all the other aspects of life.”

Marion continued, “This was a great opportunity to showcase not just a great recipe but also the work that the EOC does.”

Marion was not in Troy at the time of the EOC’s victories. She recalled Forget calling her to notify her of the program’s wins. “He was absolutely shouting with joy at his end of the phone and I was shouting with joy at my end of the phone,” said Marion.

The EOC’s Oct. 24 “Mini Chowderfest” was held in the Hedley Building at Dining Spoons, a practice restaurant run by the EOC that serves students and staff one meal every day Monday through Friday.

60 students, about 40 instructors and about ten community members attended the event. Local media such as the Troy Record, News Channel 13, and News Channel 6 also attended.

According to Warren Burras, one of the EOC culinary students on the winning team, the honey cheddar biscuit was incorporated into the mix to tame the spiciness of the chowder and served with every sample. “The spicy and sweet combination makes it just right all together,” he said.

Attendants at the Mini Chowderfest agreed. “It’s great, it has that just perfect amount of kick to it. I’m not usually into spicy food, but it’s really good,” said Victoria Ashton, a cosmetology student.

“It think it was unique. I saw other people at Chowderfest that had crackers, but I didn’t see quite a combination like this,” said Elaine Harwood, EOC associate coordinator for instructional services.

“I did try the biscuits. It’s the best with its consistency. You can tell a lot of effort was put into this,” said Trey Green, a cosmetology student who was unable to taste the chowder due to a shellfish allergy.

Forget explained the impact of the Chowderfest victory for the EOC culinary program. “It shows our viability of what a good program we really have here. It shows what these students really learn,” he said.

“A lot of people don’t seem to know about us, but for a small culinary program, these students here get some excellent training,” Forget said.

Forget has been instructing the culinary program in downtown Troy for 26 years, after retiring from the Navy and working the restaurant scene. The associate professor’s resume ranges from Asian cooking to French cuisine. “Not bad for a rookie, huh?” he joked.

Said Forget, “What impresses me is the ability to take students, get them motivated.” He added, “Once they get the culinary vibe, they think, ‘This is so cool. I can do this.’”

Culinary students like Narron and Burras are at the EOC in Troy Mondays and Fridays from 8:30 to noon and 8:30 to 2:30 on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

“I often say to my colleagues that the relationship this EOC has with its sponsor, Hudson Valley, is the best in the state. Drew Matonak could not be a better supporter of the EOC in everything we do,” Marion said.

Matonak, the president of Hudson Valley, attended the Mini Chowderfest. Matonak said, “If I go anywhere in New England and there’s an opportunity for chowder, I get it.”

“This is the best I’ve had,” he said. “These students are great. They get great instruction here. They’re very dedicated. They’re going to leave here and be successful elsewhere.”

The EOC has been present in the Capital Region since 1966, with locations in Albany and Schenectady as well as Troy. Originally named the Urban Center, the program was renamed in 1973. It moved into its current facility last year.

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