SAVORY FLAVORS — Chef Marco Suarez and High Liner Foods USA Inc. were present at Frontier High School on Nov. 13, to introduce a new fish product and to teach students about the importance of fish in a healthy diet. Suarez taught students how to cook salmon and prepare fish tacos. Photos by Alicia Greco.
Toothpick-fastened, bite-size fish tester treats, prepared by Chef Marco Suarez, were served to Frontier High School students during scheduled lunches on Nov. 13.
Suarez, who works with High Liner Foods USA Inc., came to Frontier to represent his company and to teach the students about the significant health benefits that can come from eating fish. His stated strategy was to portray healthy eating in an appealing way.
Inspired by the American soul food tradition of chicken and waffles, Suarez presented students with a fish and waffles sandwich. Between two waffles was a layer of coleslaw and a piece of fish, a sweet potato-encrusted pollock fillet that was topped with confectionery sugar and maple syrup. Students who tried the fish were entered into a raffle to win fish-themed items ranging from fish pens to a paper fish hat.
Consensus from the students was positive. Ninth grader Cameron Kohl said he does not really eat fish, but “I’ll eat this.” “It was good; I had like four of them,” said 10th grade student Anthony Bollinger.
“I think it’s weird they’re serving fish at lunch,” said self-acclaimed rap artist and student Brian Gonser. “It’s never happened before ... so hipster.”
At another table, Kalob Berg, who initially introduced himself as “Fish McCrusty,” was enthusiastic about the fish samples. “I like fish,” Berg said. The waffle aspect of the sample, he said, “added a nice little kick to it.”
After lunch, Suarez reconvened in Kimberley Kemsley’s classroom. Kemsley has been a family and consumer science and health teacher at the Frontier school for 23 years.
The cooking class was open to any students who wished to attend. Suarez asked for two student
volunteers; 10th grader Jon Heck and ninth grader Patrick Allen raised their hands. After the demonstration, Suarez handed a fish-shaped cutting board to both students.
While teaching and preparing fish tacos, Suarez also taught the high school students how to buy, cut and cook a whole fish. He said that it is important to inspect a fish before purchasing; the eyes of the fish should be black, neither cloudy nor white; the gills should be bright red; the fish should be slimy, but not so much that a residual stream of slime leaves the fish; and the smell should not be fishy, but more like the ocean or cucumbers.
When Suarez was 10 years old, his father passed away; he taught himself to cook and soon thereafter got a job at a deli in his hometown, to help support his mother. Years down the road, his boss encouraged him to attend the Culinary Institute of America.
Suarez said that he had been a troubled youngster who often frequented the principal’s office. Cooking is “pretty much the only thing I’ve ever excelled at,” he said. “It just came natural. I could still be a ‘bad kid,’ whatever that is, and get away with it.”
Suarez is currently a chef in the Boston area. He was featured on an episode of “Chopped,” a Food Network cooking competition TV show, in 2011. He said he enjoyed his experience on the show, but thinks that cooking competition shows are becoming too much of an overkill.
Frontier has done promotions for new foods in the past, but never one for fish, according to Food Service Director Sue Birmingham. She said she hopes to help “kids become accustomed to making fish a choice” in their diets. Both Birmingham and Suarez said that eating one 6-ounce serving of fish per week has been proven to reduce a person’s chance of heart disease by a third.
“[The fish] meets a lot of our new regulations,” Birmingham said, adding that this new offering, provided by High Liner Foods, has plenty of whole grains and fiber, for a nutritious diet.