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Democrat Photo by Jeanne Sager

FALLSBURG TEEN AMANDA Lara jumps around at the Serendipity Cafe. The 17-year-old was taking orders while camera crews from “Emeril Live” debated their next shot in the background.

'Bam!' You're on TV

By Jeanne Sager
LIBERTY — April 29, 2005 – The hands-on experience for the BOCES Culinary II class just got kicked up a notch – way up.
Students in the second-year cooking class spent the first half of the week with television crews catching their every move in the Serendipity Cafe on camera for an upcoming episode of “Emeril Live” on the Food Network.
It all started as a class project.
To fulfill the English component of their vocational classes, instructor Sue Garizas asked her students to write a business letter, preferably to a chef they admired.
The students unanimously chose Emeril Lagasse, the New Orleans restaurateur whose catch-phrases “bam” and “kick it up a notch” have become part of the national lingo in recent years.
Their initial goal was to get tickets to see a taping of one of his Food Network shows, either “Emeril Live” or “Essence of Emeril.”
But Garizas soon found out there was an eight-year waiting list for tickets, and her kids got a “thanks for your interest, but . . .” letter.
The students moaned and groaned, but they were ready to forget the whole thing.
Garizas wasn’t.
“I said to them, ‘You’re just going to accept a ‘no’?’” she recalled.
The kids accepted her challenge and began a letter-writing campaign that had them penning notes from New Orleans to New York City.
Eventually, the letters ended up in the hands of Alan Madison, segment producer for “Emeril Live” for the past four years.
Madison said he was initially looking for a day trip out of the city, and the BOCES kids’ story sounded intriguing.
The students have a non-traditional classroom.
Four days a week they’re on the job at Serendipity, a restaurant on Liberty’s Main Street opened by the BOCES culinary program in 2001.
The students do everything, from washing dishes to waiting tables and, of course, cooking the meals.
Garizas wrote up the program for someone else to teach four years ago.
But somewhat serendipitously, she’s still there today, guiding the students through breakfast and lunch Tuesday through Friday.
The day Madison was scheduled to visit, there was a major snowstorm.
Garizas assumed he’d cancel and the kids had lost their chance.
But he phoned from the road – he was on his way.
Garizas credits Madison with getting her kids on the air.
He said it was all them.
“The kids’ determination paid off,” he said. “All their letters finally sifted down to me.”
Serendipity Cafe has all the ingredients for a good story, Madison explained.
“It has it all – good people and good food,” he said with a laugh.
To put a human face on the short segment, Madison and his crew made the decision to follow two teens through the day, Livingston Manor’s Vanessa Hadden and Liberty’s Robert Pegram.
The television crew was in town all day Monday and Tuesday. First they met with students in the Culinary I class to show how kids get involved with the class, then on to Serendipity.
They even visited some BOCES alums at the Sullivan County Community College culinary program up the road in Loch Sheldrake.
Hadden summed up the experience in two words – “incredibly awesome.”
The 18-year-old has loved to cook since she was a kid; and she’s always looked up to Lagasse.
“He’s a creative chef,” she explained. “He’s always doing something new and different.”
Classmate Amanda Lara lucked out this week – the Fallsburg student has the week off for Passover, so she’s been spending entire days at Serendipity, and she got some camera-time herself.
She’s also a big-time Lagasse fan.
And she admits the teens really do act like Emeril in the kitchen.
“We say, ‘Bam’ all the time” she said with a laugh. “Parsley is our ‘Bam’.”
The students have gotten wind of some more surprises in the works – Lagasse came through with tickets after all, and all 27 Culinary II kids will be headed to a taping in the city on May 16.
They’ll sit in the front row and get a private lesson, Madison said.
“He’s going to kick things up a notch for them,” he added with a laugh.
They’re not sure yet if the show taped that day will include the segment taped in Liberty or not – Madison said it isn’t up to him.
But the students will all get some private time with their idol.
Garizas said it’s all exciting for her kids – from the national exposure to the trip to the city.
“It’s showing the kids if you try hard enough you can almost always attain your goal,” she said. “Our goal was to get tickets to the show – but they’re also taping our lives at Serendipity.”

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