lucaalanpr_webThe Friends of First Course and Luca Paris, chef and co-owner of Luca’s Mediterranean Café in Keene, launched the First Course Guest Chef Series in late May. Chef Luca and a group of First Course students put together a four-course culinary journey menu with food and wine selections from Italy, Morocco, Greece, Spain and France. Invited guests were treated to a candlelight dinner at the First Course facility on Dunbar Street in downtown Keene. This premier event raised nearly $1,300 for the new First Course scholarship fund.

The Friends of First Course are a group who have banded together to support the mission of First Course by way of special events that educate, advocate and market all that First Course offers individuals, businesses and the community. Their first initiative is this three-times-a-year Guest Chef series, featuring multi-course dinners prepared by regional chefs with the help of First Course students. A portion of the proceeds from each these dinner gatherings will go directly to the First Course scholarship fund, to help needy students defray the cost of the program.

lucatrainees_may2010“It’s always exciting to have a local professional chef come into our kitchen,” quips Denise Meadows, First Course Program Director. “Luca was a perfect choice as our first guest chef – he was amazing with the students, putting them to work on some daunting dishes, communicating complex ideas and concepts. The afternoon’s prep was a learning experience for all of us, with lots of laughter and energy.”

Ellen Avery, a Friend of First Course and Monadnock United Way Community Relations Director, was thrilled with the evening: “The food was delicious, service impeccable, and everyone went home feeling well fed and like they’d contributed something meaningful at the same time. It’s an honor to work with the folks at First Course and to see them in action for such a special occasion.”

The next dinner, scheduled for early November, will be hosted by Executive Chef Noel Pierce of The Monadnock Inn in Jaffrey Center. The multi-course “localvore” menu will feature products raised or grown regionally. Details will be available in late July.

luca_trainees2_webFirst Course is an on-going 16-week culinary training program of Monadnock Developmental Services. Trainees learn in a hands-on, real-world work environment – from back-of-the-house fundamentals in cooking, food preparation, knife skills, sanitation and ServSafe® food safety to front-of-the-house fundamentals in dining room and catering set-up and service. Last year, First Course trainees and staff prepared more than 100,000 meals both onsite and at catered events.

First Course trainees are at least 16 years old, from diverse backgrounds and experiences: people with abilities and disabilities, career-changers, the unemployed, recent high school graduates, and food service employees wanting to sharpen their existing kitchen skills. Preference is given to people facing challenges that may include low income, a physical or developmental disability or recovery from substance abuse or mental illness.

Friends of First Course include Ellen Avery, Chris Coates, Alan Greene, Megan Burke Kidder, Merle Larracey, Denise Meadows, Martha Raymond, Steve Ryder and Lucy Shonk. To join them or find out more, call Ellen Avery at 603-209-2642 or visit