Ele’s Eatery teaching students and serving the public

Two girls work cutting, prepping and packaging slices of cheese cake.

Hot meals, delightful salads, and decadent desserts –  the student chefs at Ele’s Eatery are back “in business.”

With COVID shut downs and restrictions, the Hospitality Program at Michael Berry Career Center has had to adjust to several changes in recent years.

But the student-run restaurant, formerly known as Bon Appetit, is again running on most Thursdays from 11 .a.m. to 1 p.m. when school is in session.

A handful of students work with Chef Karen Pokrywki to prep, cook, plate or package, serve, and sell the food.

The kitchen includes one third year student, three second year students and sometimes borrows one of the 16 first year students.

The menus vary by week to give students experience with different dishes and to keep the regulars coming back, Chef Pokrywki said.

Besides learning cooking and safety skills, students also learn about the ins and outs of running a business and get important certifications.  First year hospitality students study and test for their food handlers certification, and second year students work on the coveted ServSafe certification.  Commercial kitchens are required to have someone ServSafe certified on site.

Chef Pokrywki said many of the skills students are learning would be applicable to other jobs, especially those dealing with the public.

“We are now having to train the next generation of chefs or hostesses or servers on how to deal with customers,” she said, noting that many people left the service industry during the pandemic.

“It’s those soft skills. It’s even teaching kids how to answer the phone,” she said, laughing that for all the hours teens spend on their phones, most are not comfortable actually talking on one.

“It’s teaching those skills again that are important not just for culinary, but for everyday life,” she added.

Third year culinary student Sarina Klait said she was drawn to the program because her grandfather was a chef and her brother participated in the program at Michael Berry Career Center.  MBCC is open to students from all three traditional high schools in the district- Fordson, Dearborn High and Edsel Ford – who are interested in one of the career focused classes offered at the site.

As a senior, Klait spends four of her six class hours a day at MBCC, which is part of the district’s Dearborn Heights Campus.

“I really like to cook and bake,” Klait said.  But she also admitted that after high school she is now looking to follow in her mother’s and sister’s footsteps and become a nurse.  

On Wednesdays last fall, she ran a popular food cart where MBCC students and staff can stop and get to-go treats and drinks, like Mexican hot cocoa.

Klait said some of her Fordson classmates now know her as the bubble tea girl for selling that popular item on the cart.

On a Thursday in November, Klait was excited to get a chance to work in the front-of-house, or the part of Ele’s Eatery dealing directly with customers. 

Most of the restaurant’s few dozen pre-orders that day were for take out, but a few people stopped by to dine in.  The menu that week featured turkey cranberry panini, grilled vegetable panini, herb chicken roulade, crispy chicken salad, Michigan salad, apple pie cheesecake and pumpkin pie.

While a website is in the works, those interested in getting on the restaurant’s email list for the weekling menus can email Sous Chef Joyce at joycem@dearbornschools.org.

Name change

While the district was dealing with COVID restrictions, Chef Pokrywki and her advisory board requested that the district allow the restaurant to change its name to honor a former teacher.

Chef Eleanor “Ele” Shepherd taught culinary arts in the district for more than 35 years.  She started at Fordson High and moved to Bon Appetit when the culinary program moved to Michael Berry Career Center.  She retired in 2017 and passed away less than a year later.

“Chef Ele was very much the heart and soul of the culinary arts program over her long career,” said the June 2021 request to the Board of Education to change the restaurant’s name. “Her infectious good cheer and endless patience allowed her to work with students of all levels, abilities and backgrounds.  Her alumni have gone on to successful college careers in culinary arts, worked in fine dining restaurants around the world, and opened many successful restaurants of their own.”