By REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — Kellee Farrigan loves the rush of preparing a big dinner for lots of hungry guests.
“I get bored pretty quickly, so I like how there’s always something to do,” she said. “I like how hectic it is.”
Farrigan, 17, hasn’t always known she wanted to be a chef. In fact, it’s a pretty recent discovery.
Her mom is an excellent cook, and she learned a lot from watching her and trying out family recipes. But it wasn’t until she began the Culinary Arts and Hospitality Technology program at Capital Region BOCES last year, as a high school junior, that she became enamored with the pace of the commercial kitchen.
For Farrigan, self-discovery has been all about her mentors.
“I was kind of debating what I wanted to do last year,” she said. She’s now a senior, in her second year of Tech Prep at BOCES. During her first few weeks there, she met an instructor, Paul Rother, who would steer the rest of her high school career.
“He put me in the kitchen the first day and I kind of fell in love with it,” she said.
Rother has worked in numerous restaurants and now balances his teaching job with a summer barbecue business. Throughout the year, he passed on as much knowledge as he could to Farrigan.
“He had a ton of stories to tell,” she said.
As a senior, she knew she’d need more than classroom instruction. She needed an internship. And she knew just who she wanted to work for: Chef Ric Orlando, owner of New World Bistro Bar and Restaurant in Albany, a three-time competitor and two-time winner on The Food Network’s “Chopped.”
She was in luck. Rother and Orlando were well-acquainted. So when BOCES students prepared the soup course last month at the Chefs and Vintners’ Harvest Dinner, an annual fundraiser for the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York, Kellee and Orlando cooked together.
“I was working with him for pretty much the whole night,” Farrigan said. They made a beet salad with smoked salmon and potatoes.
She must have made a good impression, because Sept. 28 was Farrigan’s first day as an intern at New World Bistro. She wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, but thanks to her hard work at Tech Prep with Chef Rother, she felt prepared for anything the kitchen could throw her way.
Prep work was probably in the works, she said, which would involve learning quickly from the employees around her.
“It definitely gave me a lot of teamwork skills,” she said of the BOCES program, which takes place at Schenectady County Community College. “A lot of the things I can’t do on my own,” she said. “I can’t lift a 50-pound container of chowder on my own.”
Farrigan lives off Lishakill Road. She has an older sister, Karlee, and twin 11-year-old brothers, Thomas and Nolan. After she graduates in June, she hopes to continue studying at SCCC, then transfer to the Culinary Institute of America. She wants to work as an executive chef until she gets tired from the pace. (“When I’m like 50,” she said.) Then, she’ll open her own restaurant, which she pictures in Saratoga.
But no matter what comes next for Farrigan, or what she learns from her new, critically acclaimed mentor, she says the lessons her teacher has taught her will always stick.
“He pretty much told me that he started from almost nothing,” she said of Rother. “He pretty much got his life together when he realized cooking was his outlet.
“I think just hearing it from someone who isn’t famous, who isn’t on Food Network, a real person talking to you about their life, … it was like, ‘I can do what he did,’ ” she added. “I don’t have to be born into a famous family to be famous.”