September 19, 2013

Culinary students help renowned chef prepare for Taste of Home Cooking School

By Craig Crosby
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — Rebecca Hunsinger carefully slipped the yolk from one half-eggshell to the other, trying to release the gelatinous white into a plastic dish.

click image to enlarge

Chef Michael Barna, right, teaches Capital Area Technical Center culinary students Josh Pare, center, Travis Selwood how to bread a chicken breast Thursday at the Augusta school. Barna will appear at the The Taste of Home Cooking School in Augusta on Saturday.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

Taste of Home Cooking School

• Saturday, Augusta Civic Center

• Doors open at 4:30 p.m., (3:30 p.m. for VIP ticket holders); show begins at 7 p.m.

• Those who arrive with a nonperishable food item will get a gift at the door.

• Tickets: $25 for premium seating, floor and side stadium; $15 for second level

• To buy tickets, call 800-745-3000.

Her focus resembled that of a bomb squad member trying to snip the right wire as the seconds wane. But in this case, the bomb exploded: The yolk slipped into the dish.

“I hate separating egg whites,” Hunsinger said.

The statement was a cry for help to Chef Michael Barna, who grabbed an egg and offered an impromptu lesson. It all begins with the cracking of the egg. Always use a flat surface, Barna said.
“You rule the egg,” he said.

Barna, the star of Saturday’s Taste of Home Cooking School at the Augusta Civic Center, sponsored by the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel, spent several hours on Thursday with Hunsinger and other students of the Capital Area Technical Center’s culinary arts program preparing food for live performance.

“I look like a hero on stage,” Barna said. “They do all the work; I get all the glory.”

The cooking show offers live cooking demonstrations, instruction in cooking techniques and recipes from the Taste of Home cookbook. To make the show work, however, Barna must spend hours preparing food to be used.

Usually his assistants are homemakers planning to attend the show. A couple of times a year, however, Barna works with culinary students. A handful will work with Barna on stage and wash dishes during the show.

Barna drove to Maine on Wednesday from his home outside Philadelphia and was quick to take in the local culinary scene. He said he visited The Red Barn in Augusta on Wednesday and already was making plans to go back.

“I had the time of my life,” Barna said.

Chef Charles Izzy, who runs the program, said show offered a rare opportunity to work with a renowned chef.

Barna, who holds a degree from the Culinary Institute of America, has worked at hotels and restaurants across the Northeast, including serving as sous-chef at the four-star Rittenhouse Hotel in Philadelphia and executive chef for a gourmet grocer in Manhattan.

Senior Jacob Bennett, 17, of Augusta, first enrolled in the culinary arts program his sophomore year. He returned this year after taking last year off.

“I loved it my sophomore year,” Bennett said as he chopped red peppers for an appetizer wreath. “Chef Izzy is amazing.”

Bennett said he has enjoyed baking since helping his grandmother as a little boy and plans to attend Saturday’s show. He was a dish washer during the 2011 performance.

“Even though I was just doing the dishes, everything they were doing seemed like a lot of fun,” he said.

Hunsinger, a 17-year-old senior at Maranacook Community High School in Readfield, is in her first year at the culinary arts program.

“My grandmother is a pastry chef, so I was kind of brought up with it,” Hunsinger said.

Izzy said the show also allows students an insight into the entertainment and hospitality industries.

Most get to see only the finished product, but “there’s a lot of prep and a lot of work to make that show smooth when Saturday comes,” he said.

A number of Izzy’s students also will help by handing out prizes to attendees, because good customer service is a must in the restaurant business.

“It gives them good interaction with the guests,” the chef said. “Making the customer happy: That’s what it’s all about.”

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

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