R.G. Drage culinary students Grant Tomcsik, left, of Northwest High School, and Hunter Coss, of Louisville High, cut up shiitake mushrooms for hot and sour soup. The soup will be featured on the Chinese buffet set for Feb. 3 and 4 at student-run Harvest Room Restaurant. Both Tomcsik and Coss are juniors.

MASSILLON – Dressed in his crisp white coat, apron and chef’s hat, Grant Tomcsik carefully wielded a knife, slicing shiitake mushrooms into uniform pieces.

Tomcsik, a junior in the R.G. Drage culinary arts program, was prepping ingredients for a hot and sour soup that will be served on this week’s Chinese buffet.

The Chinese buffet opens the spring season of the student-run Harvest Room restaurant at the career technical school, 2800 Richville Drive SE. 

It will be served from 10:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. Thursday and Friday. The public is welcome. Reservations are not required but appreciated.

Culinary instructor David Browne cautioned with the impending storm, he may have to cancel the event. 

“I”m not sure we are going to be in school on Thursday and Friday,” he said adding, he would make a decision Wednesday and asked patrons to call before heading to the restaurant.

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A great food experience at R.G. Drage

On Monday morning, Browne and his culinary students were forging ahead with buffet planning.

Preparations were underway, setting up the buffet table, Mongolian grill station and made-to-order sushi table. The smorgasbord will include Chinese favorites such as General Tso chicken, sweet and sour chicken and Kung Pao chicken.

R.G. Drage culinary student Jhacel Dawa, of Louisville High School, fries chicken to make General Tso's chicken at the school on Monday. The Massillon school's student-operated Harvest Room Restaurant will open for the spring session on Thursday and Friday with a Chinese buffet.

Other dishes include Cantonese-style roast chicken, sticky ribs and crab rangoon.

Alaina Jackson, a Minerva High School student, was busy cleaning silverware.

Someone has to do it, she joked, adding it is an important job because no one wants a dirty fork.

The 16-year-old junior enjoys cooking and learning different aspects of the restaurant business.

“At 16, they don’t want to hire you,” she said. “Right now it is fast food or dishes but I’m getting the experience (of everything) in school.”

Besides gaining hands-on experience, Jackson and her classmates are earning certifications and other skills that will put them ahead of other applicants.

Tomcscik, a junior from Northwest High School, puts the skills he is learning in school to use on the job at Guiseppe’s Pizza and Caston & Main Brew Yard.

“This just gives you a feel for what is it like when the restaurant is open,” the 17-year-old said. 

Louisville junior Hunter Coss has always liked Asian culture and learning more about the cuisine has been fun.

Among the best things he learned is how to roll sushi. The class practiced for the made-to-order sushi station that will be part of the buffet. They rolled up California rolls filled with crab, cucumber and avocado. Besides the raw versions, they also deep-fried the concoction for a different take.

Esther Beight, a junior from Minerva High, said is enjoying making different dishes, especially those that require specialty ingredients you might not have on hand at home.

Beight and classmate Skylar White, from Northwest High School, were folding napkins shaped like kimonos. A pair of chopsticks were tucked inside.

It’s just not learning and preparing recipes, White said. 

“It so much fun seeing teachers coming together and talking and eating (our food),” she said. 

Spring session

The student-operated restaurant will be open Thursdays and Fridays throughout the remainder of the school year for buffets and prepared plates.

If the Chinese buffet is canceled, it will not be rescheduled, Browne said, noting they have already planned the remainder of menus.

Next week they will host a St. Valentine’s buffet and Friday fish fries will begin in March during Lent. A fish fry buffet is slated for March 11.

Esther Beight, left, of Minerva High School, and Skylar White, of Northwest High School, juniors in the culinary arts program at R.G. Drage, fold napkins into kimonos at the school. The school's Harvest Room Restaurant opens Thursday with a Chinese buffet.

A St. Patrick’s Day menu of corn beef, cabbage and potatoes, Ruebens and other Irish dishes will be March 17. A spring buffet is planned for the first week of April.

Browne said patrons can check the menu online or call the restaurant. 

The restaurant reopened in the fall after being closed last year due to COVID.

Browne said the pandemic has devastated their business and many of the elderly customers have not returned.

The culinary program also did many catering jobs, and those to have suffered with groups forgoing hosting events.

“We lost our catering a lot of it was for older groups, church and civic groups,” Browne said. 

Despite the challenges of the pandemic, Browne said, he has a great group of students who are working hard. 

About 32 students are part of the culinary program, he said. Many of the seniors have early placement and are working outside of the school.

Browne is trying to get things back to normal for the students and he is pleased the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America, a national carer and technical student organization, is once again holding in-person events and competitions.

Several students will be participating in a competition in March at Stark State.

Reach Amy at 330-775-1135 or amy.knapp@indeonline.com.

On Twitter: @aknappINDE

Celebrate Chinese New Year

The R.G. Drage Culinary Arts program will host a Chinese buffet from 10:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. Thursday and Friday at the student-run Harvest Room Restaurant, 2800 Richville Drive SE in Massillon. The public is welcome. Reservations are not required but appreciated. Cost is $11.95 for a buffet with Asian favorites such as Cantonese-style roast chicken, sticky ribs, sweet and sour chicken, Kung Pao chicken and crab rangoon. In addition to the buffet, the meal will include made-to-order wok items, sushi, dessert and a beverage. Patrons are encouraged to call ahead to ensure the restaurant is open. If the school is closed due to weather, the restaurant is also closed.