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Democrat File Photo by Jeanne Sager

ROBERT PEGRAM OF Monticello was one of the students followed by the “Emeril Live” camera crew. Seen above making breakfast at the Serendipity Cafe, Pegram will next be seen on TV on November 3.

Serendipity – And
Emeril – Pays a Visit

By Jeanne Sager
LIBERTY — October 25, 2005 – They might have been private lessons, but pretty soon the nation is going to see a handful of kids from BOCES kicking things up a notch with Emeril Lagasse.
The star of “Emeril Live” and the “Essence of Emeril” on the Food Network, chef and owner of restaurants across the country, gave his stamp of approval to the food cooking in Serendipity Café on Main Street in Liberty.
There the kids in the Culinary II class at BOCES have been mixing up meals under the direction of instructor Sue Garizas – Mrs. G – for almost five years now.
In their non-traditional classroom where they do everything from waiting and busing tables to preparing menus, the students learn how to make it in the culinary world and the basic reading, writing and ‘rithmetic.
So when Garizas assigned an English assignment to last year’s class, instructing them to write a letter to their favorite chef, penning a note to Lagasse asking for some free tickets to a taping was no problem.
But when a letter came back from the Food Network studios saying, basically, “thanks, but no thanks,” the kids shrugged their shoulders and headed back to work at the tables at Serendipity.
But Garizas, who’s trying to prepare her students for the real world, was looking to teach them a lesson in persistence.
She told them if they wanted to go see Emeril live, they’d just have to kick things up a notch.
“I said, ‘Look, if you accept it, it’s not going to happen,’” Garizas recalled.
So the kids put their pens back to paper and started writing.
“They wrote I don’t know how many letters back and forth,” she said.
Those letters ended up in the hands of Alan Madison, a segment producer for Lagasse’s show who, it just so happened, went to camp in Monticello as a youth.
In April, Madison and his crew headed to Liberty to tape a day at the café, plus some footage of students Vanessa Hadden of Livingston Manor and Robert Pegram of Monticello – essentially a “day in the life of a Serendipity student.”
“When he brought the footage back to Emeril, he said, ‘Get those kids down here right now,’” Garizas said.
On May 16, Lagasse paid for a bus to take about 25 Culinary II students into New York City.
He arranged for a tour of the New York Culinary School, paid for their lunch and invited them to sit in the audience on his special set at Chelsea Market.
Most of the kids were front and center for what the network is touting as “private lessons.”
Folks familiar with the show know Lagasse shares his creations with the folks in the front row, people who are essentially sitting in the outer edge of his “kitchen.”
That’s where most of the BOCES students and Garizas sat – up-close-and-personal with the Food Network star.
Although the show is called “Emeril Live,” the chef actually tapes during three one-week periods a year at the set in Chelsea.
He might tape as many as three shows a day in those weeks – varying his menu to keep things fresh for the viewers.
The BOCES students were in town for a meal of a homemade goat cheese tart with spring greens, pasta rags with chicken confit and orange shortcakes with a fresh berry medley.
“It was delicious,” Garizas said with a satisfied sigh.
But for Garizas, the real satisfaction came from the joy on her students’ faces.
“The kids got to sit right up front and center; they were the stars,” she said. “It was just a great day for these kids, kids who probably don’t get out of Sullivan County.
“I was very, very happy for them,” she continued. “The whole project was about perseverance – if you try really hard, you can get almost anything you want.
“Winners never quit, quitters never win,” she continued. “I tried to force feed that to them all year . . . and they got it.”
The show will air on Thursday, Nov. 3, at 8 p.m. on the Food Network (with an encore viewing at midnight).
Garizas said people can expect to see some footage from Serendipity – maybe even a few familiar faces who were eating at the café during taping.
The students’ trip to the city was also taped, and they got to meet up with Lagasse for autographed copies of his new book that day, so Garizas doesn’t know what shots were kept and what will end up on the cutting room floor.
A short promo on the Food Network Web-site says simply, “Emeril was really impressed with some letters he received from some kids in culinary vocational school in Liberty, New York. So he wanted to have a private lesson for all those up and coming young chefs who love cooking as much as he does.”
This isn’t Lagasse’s first time plugging Sullivan County’s fancy foods.
A proponent of foie gras production, “Emeril Live” featured an episode named for Ferndale’s Hudson Valley Foie Gras – a show that featured pecan crusted duck confit with a wilted spinach salad and pan-roasted duck confit (as opposed to the chicken confit he prepared for the kids), foie gras bread pudding and smoked duck with sweet corn and mushroom pasta.
The network often airs reruns – so Sullivan County fare will have its share of those 15 minutes of fame.

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