CHARLESTON -- The marinara is bubbling.
The parmesan is chopped. The lemons are sliced.
But something isn't quite right. As Chef Jeremy Ryan takes a taste of the tarragon butter sauce he's prepping for the evening's main course, his eyes light up as he has a revelation.
"Sugar," he says as his mouth curls into a smile. "That's what it needs. Sugar."
Ryan is assisting Eastern Illinois University's Apprentice Chef Cooking School as head chef during the program's climactic meal. The students, each of whom comes from a different community, have worked together through several classes and field trips for three days.
Family and Consumer Sciences Instructor James Roche said the camp is about giving future chefs as in-depth of an experience as they would find in culinary school. The students have gone through classes such as knife skills and plating & garnishing.
"The biggest thing is just to get (students) familiar with culinary principles," he said. "So people who are interested in the hospitality business, interested in going to culinary school, becoming a chef -- this is the perfect program for them."
For the final evening Wednesday, the students prepared a four-course meal for their families, with chicken parmesan for the main course. As the students began prep to place the appetizer, bruschetta, on plates, Ryan reminded them of a serving essential.
"Everyone needs gloves," he said. "No gloves, no love."
It's a statement he said was instilled in him during culinary school. At several points during the night the chefs checked their gloves again -- one noted the group went through two boxes of gloves during the process.
Ryan kept the students moving along through the appetizer garnish with only one slight hiccup: The cilantro won't be a whole lot of help where it ended up.
"Oh, here it is," Ryan said, making a grim discovery. "It's in the trash can."
But the chefs soldiered on and substituted. The group moved on to salads and on to the entree, mastering the proper way to serve pasta (place the pasta down with the tongs and then twist it, Ryan said), carefully placing the chicken on the plate and topping it with the marinara. Ryan advised the students to place three pieces of parmesan on the chicken in a shingle formation. And out the chicken went. Each chef served their own family, sharing the skills they had learned.
The chefs finally reached dessert, prompting Ryan to perform his own rendition of Barry Manilow's "Looks Like We Made It." But he had another tip for the chefs as they moved between courses.
"If you were in a real restaurant you might tell your server to go sell another bottle of wine," he said. "Keep 'em busy."
At several points during service the chefs ran into important issues they might run into in their careers -- broken glass on the floor, a diner with strawberry allergies and being one plate short while serving the main course. Later on Ryan would remind the chefs it was imperative they continue to work together as well as they did during Wednesday's service.
"It's not if you get in the weeds guys, it's when you get in the weeds, how you react," he said. "And the weeds are whenever it gets tough. If you can have a good chemistry with the people you work with, you can get through this."