The second annual Grady Grown dinner was a southern feast. The four-course meal was planned, prepared, and served by culinary arts students from Cairo High School (CHS).
Using local ingredients harvested and produced in Grady County, guests started the evening with an assortment of hors d’oeuvres, including fried okra with hot sauce, corn muffins topped with barbecue pulled pork, and sweet pepper jelly crostini.
The salad medley was a mixture of roasted potatoes, field peas, corn, tomatoes, onions, and microgreens, drizzled with pecan truffle oil.
For the main course, guests selected between pork skin crusted chicken with roasted potatoes or beef tenderloin medallions and mushroom orzo.
Using a few southern favorites, the dessert was a pear and pecan tart topped with home-churned ice cream and dusted with powdered sugar.
“This is our second year catering the Grady Grown dinner,” says Whitney J. Brown, Cairo County High School culinary arts instructor. “We have developed locally grown products into a farm-to-table style menu.”
While the dinner showcases the economic importance of agriculture in Grady County, which supports approximately 2,600 jobs and more than $288 million economic impact, the event also provides an opportunity for students to gain valuable culinary skills.
“Event production allows the students a real-world experience that I simply can’t replicate in the classroom setting,” says Brown.
With approximately 120 students enrolled in the culinary arts program, Brown says they are all encouraged to work three events each semester.
“The on-the-job training is vitally important to our CHS culinary arts program,” says Brown. “Students who prepare and work at these types of events learn a myriad of skills. These skills include strong work ethics, hospitality, table service, safety and sanitation in the kitchen, plating and presentation, and table settings.”
The Grady Grown event provided Callie Lauder, a senior, the chance to put her culinary skills into action.
“I was responsible for frying okra for the hors d’oeuvres and managing the back of the house to make sure all the courses were served in an effective and timely manner,” says Lauder, who served as head chef.
The culinary arts program has been instrumental in guiding Lauder’s career path. “After high school, I plan on pursuing a degree in education to become a culinary arts teacher,” she says. “After I get my education degree, I hope to attend culinary school.”
Anna Grace Diamond, a freshman, says she enjoyed the presentation of the food and interacting with the guests.
“My favorite part of the planning would have to be the artistic display of how each course was plated,” says Diamond, who was the culinary program’s featured chef of the month. “As far as the dinner, my favorite part was watching the guest enjoy the food that I had a part in preparing.”
The annual Grady Grown dinner is sponsored by the Whigham Volunteer Community Council, a group that raises money to support local beautification projects.
“Recently, the community council paid to have murals painted on buildings downtown,” says Lisa Calhoun, Whigham city clerk and a member of the community council. “The dinner is a way to highlight crops and products available in Grady County and the talent of our students.”