Students show off cooking skills to mayor after trip to Italy

The trip was part of Kenney's community schools initiative.

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Philadelphia high school students instructed Mayor Kenney in the art of pasta-making on Wednesday.

Nineteen culinary arts students from four of the District’s community schools — Murrell Dobbins CTE High School, Kensington Health Sciences Academy, George Washington High School, and South Philadelphia High School — showed Kenney and other city officials how to prepare fresh ravioli, a skill they learned during their 10-day trip to Florence, Italy, in October to learn about the region’s cuisine.

The trip, part of Citizen Diplomacy International’s Sister Cities Program, was the first collaboration between CDI and the Mayor’s Office of Education. While in Italy, students learned to make pastries and pasta and visited medieval churches and vineyards. After returning to Philadelphia, they put their new cooking skills to use.

“The educator in me wanted them to demonstrate what they’ve learned,” said Otis Hackney, the chief education officer for the Mayor’s Office of Education.

The event was held at the Parkway Central Library’s Culinary Literacy Center. After Hackney thanked the trip sponsors, chaperones, and school principals, two students talked about their time in Italy, describing the art museums they visited and the food they enjoyed cooking and eating.

Kenney said of the students, “I just want to tell them how proud I am of them.”

Mayor Kenney tries his hand at kneading pasta dough. (Photo by Naomi Elegant)

The community schools project is an initiative of the Kenney administration, in collaboration with the District, that seeks to make schools the hub of neighborhoods by providing students and their families with social services and activities, such as adult education, that will enhance their learning experience and increase parent engagement.

The students, dressed in chef’s whites and hats, separated eggs and sifted flour under the supervision of chef Stuart Beck of George Washington High School, who was also one of the chaperones on the trip. Kenney joined in to help knead the pasta dough.

Superintendent William Hite also got some lessons in kneading.

“We are excited that our students have had this invaluable opportunity to learn and travel throughout Italy and are thankful to the organizations that made the trip a reality,” Hite said.

For many of the students, the trip to Florence was their first time out of the United States.

“I’ve never been on a plane, never been outside of the country, so I was kind of freaking out, but at the same time I was excited,” said Austin McSorley, a senior at George Washington High School. “It was honestly one of the best experiences I’ve had.”

The air was fragrant with cheese and herbs by the time the dish was ready. Students spooned plump spinach-ricotta ravioli onto plates and passed them around to guests.

Kenney, after finishing his first ravioli, walked back over to the kitchen counter and asked the students, “Can I have another one?”

Students Austin McSorley (left) of George Washington High School and Jada Myers of South Philadelphia High School crack eggs for their pasta.