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Prairie Ridge High School creates menu item for Duke’s Alehouse

CRYSTAL LAKE – Patrons of Duke’s Alehouse and Kitchen in Crystal Lake will soon be able to get a taste of Prairie Ridge High School.

A marketing and commercial foods class have partnered at Prairie Ridge High School to help the downtown Crystal Lake restaurant extend its reach to the area’s teens by creating original dishes based on feedback from their classmates.

The two classes divided into multiple groups of six and are competing to get a dish on Duke’s special menu in April that will feature a soup and salad, vegetable side, appetizer, burger or sandwich and entree from the best of the groups’ offerings selected by the restaurant’s general manager and chef, Zak Dolezal.

The partnership was the brainchild of marketing instructor Bryan Peckhart and commercial foods instructor Erika Jones who wanted to give their students a hands-on, real-life scenario where their work would ultimately be judged by making it on a menu at a successful business rather than a letter on paper. The connection with Duke’s came to fruition after Peckhart connected with Dolezal through one of his students who works at the restaurant through the school’s work program.

“One of our goals for the year was to collaborate more with classes and incorporate real-world applications outside of class,” Peckhart said. “It’s a much better learning experience for them because it’s real. These kids will see the end result come April.”

The first phase of the project required the marketing students in each group to go out and research what their demographic would like to see on Duke’s menu. After gathering the information, the commerical foods students in each group had to come up with original recipies. The project has moved into the second phase where the participants pick 25 students at random from the cafeteria during lunch hours to sample the creations.

After the taste test, the students fill out an online survey to choose which items they liked most. That information is then sent to Dolezal who can use it in making his final menu decisions.

Senior Nolan Heatley, a student in the marketing class, said this project has been some of the most motivational work he has done in high school.

“This has a lot more consequences,” he said. “If you don’t do well, you’re not just letting down yourself. You’re letting down the business you are working for.”

Jones said the experience has been a much more effective way to convey the realities entailed in a culinary career. In the past, Jones would have her students split into groups and create a menu. The students would then prepare an item which would be sampled by other faculty members and critiqued. But the illusion of a true judgement cannot replace the chance for students to actually see their work in a restaurant in town.

“Some of the students told me the other day they felt very nervous when Zak was tasting their food,” Jones said. “I think that’s when it really sunk in that their items are potentially going to be on a menu that anyone can order from. I think they’re really loving it.”

Working with Duke’s has also opened the students to importance of bringing orginality and philosophies into business models, Jones said. Duke’s prides itself on using fresh local ingredients and organic food that sets it apart from others. Developing a signature quality is important in the restaurant industry and any business, she said.

“We weren’t boxed in like a traditional chain restaurant with no philsopohy or theme to it,” Jones said. “Personally I love Duke’s and I love the philosophies on why he sources the food the way he does. You don’t get boxed in working within his parameters.”

Clare Pipia, a senior in commercial foods, said she is excited to see what makes the final menu and hopes her sweet potato veggie burger can make the cut.

“I’ll definitely be making a trip out there in April,” she said.

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