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By KENDRA LEIGH MILLER
Special to the Standard
PROVIDENCEâIt was a dining experience that wonât be forgotten for three students at Metcalf Elementary School in West Greenwich.
Nicholas Petrarca, Rachel Lesinski and Mary Reynolds, students at Metcalf, along with their parents were treated to a three course, gourmet dinner at Gracieâs, an upscale restaurant in downtown Providence Tuesday night.
The three, selected from 40 entries, were winners of the Food Writing contest held recently through the school in collaboration between Stacey Place, music teacher for the Exeter-West Greenwich School District, and Ellen Gracyalny, owner of Gracieâs.
The contest, which consisted of writing a 500-word essay describing their most memorable or best food theyâve ever eaten, was open to students in the fifth and sixth grade.
Petrarcaâs essay was about the dining experience he shared with his family while they were on vacation in Wyoming.
âBreakfast, lunch and dinner were all amazing,â he said. âAnd, out of nowhere, three mountains were in front of you. The view was great incredible and that helped make the experience what it was.â
His mother and father, Karen and Pietro, were thrilled he won the contest but were more thrilled they were able to take part in this experience with him.
âWeâre so thankful for Stacey and Ellen for coordinating this,â said Karen. âThis is such a nice evening out, really special.â
Lesinskiâs most memorable experience was a chuck wagon breakfast while she was on vacation at a dude ranch in Texas.
âCowboys cooked for you,â she said. âIt was something Iâve never done before.â
Lesinski came with her father, Brian.
âHer mom is a librarian,â he said. âShe encouraged Rachel to write in the contest. I think this is great for the kids to have this type of experience.â
Reynolds, who wouldnât even eat a veggie until she was six years old but now tries all sorts of foods, chose to write about how trying new foods can be a great learning experience.
âJust because something may be a strange shape or color, doesnât mean it tastes bad,â she said. âWhen my mother sort of improvised with turkey and some other items she had on-hand already, it tasted great.â
She came with her mother Lori, her father Rich and her younger brother Evan.
âShe came home one day after school and asked me if she should do the contest,â said Rich. âI was floored when she said she won. Lori threw a meal together one day and Mary said she loved it.â
âThis is an incredible night,â Lori said. âFor her to get the chance to do this is amazing,â.
They selected appetizers, the main course and desserts from the regular menu, which is constantly changing.
Place is the music teacher but her second passion is food. She is an independent food blogger for Adventures in Rhode Island Dining. Place received a press release about the childrenâs tasting menu being offered by the restaurant last December so she contacted Gracyalny to learn more and, from there, the idea for the contest was born.
Place was excited for her students to have the upscale dining experience.
âStudents in Exeter and West Greenwich tend to stay in Exeter and West Greenwich,â she said, âItâs an opportunity for them to get out a bit, away from the small area of Exeter and have an experience in the city. The contest was a way for them to really think about what some of their eating experiences have been, what theyâve done with their families and if theyâre interested in writing more or learning more about the culinary arts.â
She also wanted the kids to see that a person can be more than one thing â have more than one goal.
Gracyalny, who says she only buys local and has a passion for teaching kids about where their food comes from, said she and the staff have hosted childrenâs food tastings in the past; this is the first time she has collaborated in something like this.
âI thought it was great Stacey was having this contest,â said Gracyalny. âItâs nice to introduce different foods to them and to show them how things can be prepared in different ways.â
Brendan Chipley Roane, director of special events, wants guests to have a dining experience at Gracieâs.
âWe want guests to leave the restaurant talking about the experience,â said Roane. âAnyone can leave a restaurant after a dinner, we want guests to have a lasting impression- that culinary art experience and itâs a great thing for the kids.â
At the conclusion of the meal, Petrarca, Lesinski and Reynolds, along with their parents, were treated to a full, behind-the-scenes tour of the restaurantâs kitchen and pastry area lead by Executive Chef Matthew Varga.
Varga explained how the kitchen is organized into specific sections, how the staff are trained in their specific tasks and how everything needs to be well organized and run smoothly to make sure everything is cooked properly and final touches are very detailed.
Pastry chef Melissa Denmark, offered a short demonstration at what was affectionately called âpastry land.â
âThis has been a great experience,â said Petrarca. âThe best part of the whole night, has been getting to socialize and enjoy the experience.â
Lesinski enjoyed the tour and learning about how some of the pastry is created.
âNot a lot happens at Metcalf, so it was cool that we were the first to get to do it,â she said.
Reynolds really enjoyed the opportunity to try food combinations she never ate before.
âI really enjoyed trying new foods and I got to see what they do in pastry landâ