By Amy Palumbo-LeClaire
Zachary Simons has always loved cars. He came to Bay Path Regional Vocational High School as a freshman thinking he’d be taking apart engines while enrolled in the school’s automotive program. He didn’t expect, instead, to be cooking a creamy Chicken Alfredo for a community of elders, seniors, and regulars. The Shop was his fourth choice out of nine exploratories. Like most students who have found a vocational passion, this young man hasn’t looked back since.
“There was a spark,” said the Bay Path senior, whose grades, attitude, and experience have now earned him a paid intern position working at Nichols College via Bay Path’s Co-Op program, where he works as a culinary intern. “I loved being in the dining room and being with the customers and communicating with them. There was an immediate vibe I felt for the kitchen freshman year. Cooking was never my thing. It wasn’t a hobby. Once I got into the shop I fell in love with it. Chef Sansoucy was a big part of it. He will never yell at you if you make a mistake. He will guide you and help you get just the right taste to a food and show you the proper way. All of the shop instructors communicate well with the kids. They relate to you.”
Chef Mark Sansoucy, also a Bay Path baseball head coach and Freshman football coach, has worked in the restaurant industry for thirty years, his own love for cooking sparked by an education at Johnson and Wales, along with military training, where he drove a truck for the mess hall and “loved it.”
“I’ve always been around food and working,” said Sansoucy. “You take so much pride in what you are making. It’s never the same. There’s something different every day here. We offer our regular menu for repeat customers and specials, which are constantly changing.”
A meal at Bay Path’s Hilltop Restaurant blends good value with quality cooking and a dash of unbeatable service. For $2.99 a hungry diner can get a cup of French onion soup. A grilled marinated chicken salad is on the menu for $4.99. An entrée may even include New England haddock or sirloin steak tips, marinated and chargrilled to one’s liking, and served with sautéed onions and the daily potato. The Hilltop dining experience is made even sweeter by an inimitable quality: the young servers take obvious pride in their work. Happy to please, they will fill your water glass, top of your coffee, check in with you on the quality of your meal and, ultimately, ensure that your dining experience is both memorable and worthwhile.
On the perks of serving in the dining room, Simons added, “I love when my parents come in to visit. It’s fun to serve your loved ones. My parents have always supported me.” Though he isn’t certain of which college he’ll attend yet, he’s leaning towards Nichols College to study business, a decision he hopes will aid him with the restaurant he hopes to someday own. “I don’t know if I’d be as passionate about the field if my parents weren’t so supportive to me.”
The young chef’s passion, along with influencing future plans, has also humbled him. “During my second week working co-op at Nichols I was rolling a full tray of chicken cordon blue into the walk-in. There was an indent in the floor where the drain is. A wheel got stuck. The whole tray tipped over. There were about thirty portions. I was so mad and yelled out,” he shared, still simmering a bit, “but they didn’t get mad at me all. We couldn’t do anything about it. We saved what we could and tossed the rest out.”
Thankfully the incident was short-lived and Zach has been given many opportunities to redeem himself at Nichols College. “Two weeks ago, Bob, who serves at the chef table, was out,” he recollected. “There was a long line at the station, but I just kept going. My co-workers complimented me, along with supervisors. They told me that my contact and communication with customers is so strong. ‘You cook, serve and communicate so well. Can we ever find someone who works as well as you?’”
Bay Path culinary students, who are trained to work as well as their senior mentor, engage in a different kitchen station each week, be it in the dish machine, bake side, or dining room. A rotating schedule allows for a different set of tasks, and varied learning experiences. Freshmen and sophomores serve while juniors and seniors work in the kitchen preparing meals. During their sophomore year, students get a feel for the “cook” or “bake” sides of the kitchen: cooks prepare meals for the dining room, while bakers manage desserts and take-out orders. Incidentally, students will hold a Bake Sale on November 21, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, and sell traditional pies, cakes, breads, and other baked goods to the public. This will take place from 9 – 1 at Bay Path’s Hilltop Restaurant.
When it comes to his favorite part of the trade, Simons says he’s more of a cook than a baker. “Cooking is an art and baking is a science. If you make a mistake when cooking, you can add a spice it to cover up,” he mentioned, sharing what a “Day in the Life” of a Bay Path culinary student looks like. “You come in, look at the menu and prep starts promptly at 8:00 a.m. Chef Sansoucy allows some seniors to create the menus. We prepare until about 10:10 then have lunch for about 45 minutes. We make all of the dishes. At 11:00 service starts until 12:30, then it’s break down time. We have a break at 1:00 then come back and clean until 2:30.”
This diligent vocational student, aside from his cooking jobs, maintains church grounds on Mondays. His two paychecks, he admitted, help him to pay for his car insurance, cell phone bill, college future and, perhaps most importantly (for a guy who still loves engines) his gas guzzling truck.
“I like to keep going and be non-stop,” said a student inspired.
Visit Zach, Chef Sansoucy, and a dedicated crew of culinary Bay Path cooks during the Hilltop lunch hour, which takes place from 11 – 12:30 daily. Call them at 508-248-5971.
Write to Amy at [email protected]