GLENS FALLS -- While thousands of people swarmed booths set up by 42 area restaurants at the 19th annual Taste of the North Country on Sunday, area youth used the event to gain work experience and network with potential employers.
Some 18 culinary students and four dozen criminal justice students from the local BOCES Southern Adirondack Educational Center manned the gates and worked as sous chefs, side by side with some of the region’s finest culinarians.
For Brandon Kearney, the annual food expo organized by the Glens Falls Kiwanis Club is not just an opportunity to try everything from steak to organic tomatoes. It’s a way to complete the five hours of field work the BOCES criminal justice program requires. Before Sunday, the 15-year-old had never performed guard duty.
"A lot of people try to get in for free," said the Glens Falls native who one day hopes to be a State Trooper. "I just tell them to go over there and pay for it."
Almost 6,500 people attended the event this year, up 500 from last year.
The Taste of the North Country, with its $5 entrance fee and 50 cent tasting tickets, generates about $80,000. Some of that goes back to the participating restaurants; the rest goes to the Kiwanis Club’s scholarship and youth programs. This year, the club netted about $49,000.
The experience gained by local teens is another contribution to the community.
"It’s not that they’re just exposed to other techniques or styles," said Lance Nitahara, the executive chef at Camp of the Woods in Speculator, who rose to nationwide fame last year when he won the Food Network’s "Chopped" competition.
Nitahara spent much of his day working side by side with several culinary students.
"You have the stereotypical chef, and there are those out there — the ones where you have to dodge pens," Nitahara said. "But something like this allows these kids to see the opposite end of the spectrum."
BOCES culinary instructor Charles Jones said his students were being exposed to ideas they otherwise may have not experienced.
On top of the BOCES students, dozens of local teens from 10 school key clubs joined the 105 Kiwanis volunteers, manning information booths or running supplies, while children from the Warren County youth court emptied the garbage bins.
The link with BOCES started 10 years ago, according to the event’s chairman Jerrod Ogden, when members of the Glens Falls Police Department, who also belonged to the Kiwanis Club, invited the center’s criminal justice students to patrol the event.
"They were struggling to get their hours," Ogden said, adding that it’s fitting for an event that raises cash for scholarship programs to be patrolled and staffed by eager local youth.
"Having a presence and being seen is often enough to deter problems," said Ken Baker, an officer with the Glens Falls Police Department. "It’s good to learn that early on."