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Sunday, November 27, 2016

Milford High graduate earns culinary kudos


Jack Burnham readily admits to a passion for preparing juicy steaks, hearty burgers and lobsters soon to be swathed in warm butter.

His desire to enhance his culinary skills and claim a niche in the restaurant industry has won him an award. ...

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Jack Burnham readily admits to a passion for preparing juicy steaks, hearty burgers and lobsters soon to be swathed in warm butter.

His desire to enhance his culinary skills and claim a niche in the restaurant industry has won him an award.

Burnham, 18, graduated in June from Milford High School & Applied Technology Center. There, Burnham earned a ProStart National Certificate of Achievement. The honor entailed mastering a two-year culinary studies program and completing 400 hours of hands-on experience while cooking in a professional environment.

The work requirement was accomplished at Giorgio's Ristorante & Bar in Milford, where Burnham is now employed.

The ProStart program, instituted at Milford High during his junior year, presented a concentration of classroom instruction augmented with practice in a multitude of kitchen skills, including knife handling and food safety. The program is offered by the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation, which promotes excellence in the restaurant industry.

The ProStart program focuses on technical, leadership and management development. Some 140,000 high school students here and abroad have benefited.

Milford High School's restaurant, Windows on West Street, was ground zero for Burnham's four years of culinary studies. The restaurant offers seating to the public on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 11:15 a.m.-12:15 p.m.

The seating area adjoins a spacious kitchen where Burnham and other students learned to prepare a diverse menu - chicken St. Moritz, roast stuffed pork tenderloin and manicotti florentine recently were featured, along with chocolate truffle torte and apple berry crumb pie.

Burnham said he is grateful for the knowledge he acquired from his instructors. Chef Fred Robinson has retired, but his wisdom lingers with Burnham. Mike Levin, Cheryl Emerson and Paul Joyce are central to the experience.

Burnham also thanks Ben Class, a Giorgio's restaurant associate who not long ago contacted the school, looking for a student with a love for the culinary arts and a yen to work in a kitchen. Burnham was selected.

"I was always in the kitchen at home helping my mom with the cooking," Burnham said. "We made some of my grandmom's famous recipes - baked stuffed potatoes, meatballs, a kielbasa - that was always nice."

Parents Laurie and David Burnham and his older brother, Randy, support Jack's affinity for the kitchen and are proud of his many other interests. Jack is a 6-foot, 3-inch athlete. He was captain of the school's tennis team in his senior year. He has been active with the Boy Scouts for seven years and is an assistant scoutmaster for local Troop 407.

"New Year's Eve will be my last night at Giorgio's before leaving for school," Burnham said. "We'll probably do two steamship cuts of beef. It's the same as a filet mignon, but a lot bigger, about 70 pounds each."

Burnham will be following in chef instructor Levin's footsteps, because Burnham will begin classes on Jan. 4 at Levin's alma mater, the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. The institute is one of the country's top culinary schools.

Levin said Burnham's acquisition of the ProStart National Certificate of Achievement entitles him to scholarships for further postsecondary education.

"I see him going far," Levin said. "I see him going to some of the top culinary schools, and when he's done, he can write his own ticket and work wherever he wants."

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Nov. 22, Burnham was bracing for a busy dinner hour at Giorgio's, one of three restaurants owned by the Sklavounos family. Others are in Merrimack and Manchester.

Alongside Burnham were fellow cooks Donnie Jordan and Steve Edwards, both of Manchester. George Sklavounos, head of the culinary triumvirate, was greeting guests. The trio of cooks had chicken breasts on the grill, fresh asparagus steaming and tomatoes simmering in a fragrant garlic sauce redolent with oregano and thyme.

"There's nothing like clearing off a full board of tickets and knowing you put out a great plate of food on each ticket," Burnham said. "I love working at Giorgio's. It gets hectic once in a while, but any kitchen does. It's the rush everybody lives for."