Chef Instructors Walter Tanner, far left; and Suzanne O’Neil, far right, with students in South Tech Culinary Academy, a charter school in Boynton Beach. A recent class was devoted to making foods from sweet corn. / Photos, video by J.D. Vivian

Most people know that buying local food is better. And with the Everglades Agricultural Area — better known as “the Glades” — just 40 miles from the Atlantic Ocean and about the same distance from the Gulf of Mexico, transport doesn’t take long.

Nick Padula chops bacon for his team’s recipe, Sweet-Corn Pancakes With Bacon.

“Buying local” saves fuel and other delivery expenses; furthermore, food that spends hours, instead of days or a week, on a truck tastes better. A lot better, as Walter Tanner, chef instructor at South Tech Culinary Academy, points out.

From garden to table

“Our students learn the whole process of growing,” he says as he leads a guest on a tour of the Boynton Beach charter school’s garden. “They can compare the taste of tomatoes picked from this garden to the taste of those from a supermarket. Ours taste better.”

Melani Rojas “shaves” fresh sweet corn from Belle Glade for Sweet-Corn Tacos.

The garden is just outside the large kitchen area where 20 students in the culinary-arts program prepare meals and perform other culinary-related activities. The garden grows a variety of produce, including basil, cucumbers, kale, lemongrass and mint. Some of the produce is grown hydroponically.

Another reason that local produce is better is its taste, Chef Instructor Suzanne O’Neil explains to the students during a recent recipe-making class. “Corn begins losing its sweetness as soon as it’s harvested. It loses 50 percent of its sweetness within 48 hours.”

During that class, juniors and seniors at the school, working in teams, prepared fresh dishes that showcased sweet corn from Belle Glade. Roth Farms, based in Belle Glade, donated the corn.

Among the delectables on the menu: Sunny’s Easy-Baked Sweet Corn, Sweet-Corn Fritters, Sweet-Corn Tacos, and Sweet-Corn Pancakes With Bacon.

From left: Prepared by South Tech Culinary Academy students, these are the finished versions of Sweet-Corn Fritters; Sweet-Corn Tacos; and Rice With Sweet Corn. An ear of sweet corn from Roth Farms in Belle Glade is at right.

During the class, Tanner and O’Neil constantly circulated among the busy students, providing advice. “Cook it longer” and “Stir, stir, stir!” Tanner says to Alejandro Maldonado.

“You must be professional!”

“Cook it longer” and “Stir, stir, stir!”, Chef Walter Tanner tells Alejandro Maldonado as the budding chef cooks corn for Sunny’s Easy-Baked Sweet Corn.

O’Neil gently chastises a team of students whose ingredients were lying, in no particular order, on a stainless-steel table. “Put your mis-en-place on a brown tray. You must be professional!” (Mis-en-place, a French culinary phrase, means “everything in its place.”) She brings out a brown plastic tray for them, and the students dutifully transfer their collection of ingredients onto it.

The goal, according to Lori Durante, who runs Taste History Culinary Tours, is to ensure “a fully integrated farm-to-table experience for the students.”

Next: Three Senses Field Trip

In addition to the recent recipe-making class, the South Tech Culinary Academy students will take the Taste History: Three Senses Field Trip to Belle Glade on Friday, Dec. 8. They’ll visit Roth Farms as well as the University of Florida’s Everglades Research and Education Center (EREC), both of which grow sweet corn.

The field trip will focus on stimulating three senses: sight, touch and taste. Explains Durante, “The students will experience the sight, touch and taste of the farms.”

At EREC, the students will attend presentations on, among other topics, water quality and sustainable agriculture, herbs and spring mix, and barn owls.