WFAEats: Student Chefs From Charlotte Cook Up Excellence

May 12, 2018

In case you missed it, while famous chefs were winning James Beard awards recently, some local culinary pros were also taking top honors for their work. But these aren’t the purveyors of fine food at swanky eateries. 

These are students at East Mecklenburg High School – and their “restaurant” is a classroom that adjoins teaching kitchens at their school.

On May 10, guests at the annual “Gold Feathers” event gathered to dine at round tables set with white linens and festooned with flowers to showcase the culinary students’ skills.

Servers delivered plate after beautiful plate from the kitchen to each table. It was hard to choose between a wilted-spinach-and-bacon-vinaigrette salad or one with strawberries and candied almonds. Tablemates swapped forkfuls of beef tenderloin and garlic herb glazed salmon, both accompanied by red-skinned mashed potatoes and oven roasted vegetables. Three tempting desserts, German chocolate truffles, lemon curd with fruit compote, and strawberry shortcake, were as delectable as any served in a patisserie.

A look at how the tables were dressed up.
Credit Amy Rogers / WFAE

By sheer good fortune, I landed a spot at Table 5, among longtime attendees. Debbie Hodde and Angela Williams are both East Meck alums. Benita Bryson’s two children graduated from the school. These diners and the others at Table 5 arrange to sit together when they make their reservations each year for the event that’s been taking place since 2006. No walk-ins are allowed; this year’s tally of 164 guests was the highest yet.

Dale Richardson is one of the leaders of the culinary program where students participate and compete for recognition from the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA), formerly known as the Future Homemakers of America. While guests enjoyed dessert, faculty presented awards to the students.

“When [students] leave here, they are college- and career-ready," Richardson said. "They have wonderful, bright futures.”

This year, East Meck students won seven gold medals in multiple competitions at the national level. Jensine Crowder won a full scholarship to Sullivan University. Olivia Pellin will represent the district as the state officer when she attends the organization’s national leadership conference.

Guest chefs and community partners support “Gold Feathers” (the name is a nod to the school’s eagle mascot) with donated goods and expertise, but it’s all designed to let the students shine. They’ve hosted events for local garden clubs, reunions, and a visit from former White House pastry chef Roland Mesnier. Richardson said about 120 students go through the program each year. Currently, 460 students are tentatively signed up for next year.

Reservations for the next “Gold Feathers” dinner won’t open until spring 2019, but it’s never too early to get on the list. For more information, call East Mecklenburg High School at (980) 343-6430 or email

Amy Rogers writes WFAEats, a fun adventure where we explore all things tasty and tackle the meatier side of the food scene in and around Charlotte.