What's the chemistry behind crème brûlée?

Forty-nine Carbon County middle school students can tell you.

During the most recent Carbon County SHINE Career Academy, "Molecular Gastronomy," a seven-week course held at the Carbon Career & Technical Institute in Jim Thorpe; as well as in a food lab in the Jim Thorpe Area School District, students learned how to prepare food from professional chef Jonathan Vermillion; while at the same time learned the chemistry behind food preparation from trained chemist Frank Karnish.

On Tuesday evening, the students experiments came to fruition as they welcomed their parents to the grand finale event for the course.

Rachel Strucko, coordinator for the Career Academy, explained that this session was mainly about food science and teaching students how to cook; while learning math and chemistry skills for the future.

"One of the coolest aspects of molecular gastronomy was how hands-on the projects were," she said. "The students, every night, did a different lab in chemistry or culinary arts."

A cool point with many of the students, Strucko pointed out, was that most of the labs were able to be eaten.

The program was then turned over to the students, who talked about what they learned in culinary arts and chemistry.

As students Trevor Keefer of Penn Kidder; Sebastian and Jonathan Reynolds of Panther Valley; Breanna Hoffner and Taylor Caroll of Lehighton; and Ethan Kattner of Jim Thorpe spoke about their experiences in the kitchen and science lab, parents were treated to a three-course meal, prepared by Vermillion and the students.

The menu included a mixed green salad with orange segments, tossed with chevra and orange vinaigrette; apple cider glazed pork loin over butternut squash risotto; and a cranberry biscotti with créme anglis.

Many of the students enjoyed being in the kitchen and helping plate and then serve the meals.

In addition, all centerpieces were made by student Cera Bowman, who created paper origami candles. Origami is the Japanese art of folding paper into intricate shapes.

Strucko said the next course in the Career Academy series will be green energy, which starts Jan. 7.

During that course, students will learn how to make biodiesel fuel; and will be switching an engine to natural gas; as well as finish building an electric car.

The Carbon County SHINE Career Academy began last year through a partnership between Lehigh Carbon Community College and CCTI, as a way to bridge the gap in the LCCC SHINE Afterschool Program model. It allows Carbon County students in grades six, seven and eight, to look into jobs of the future through hands-on projects; while building on their current academic skills.

The programs are funded through a $630,000 Department of Transportation grant.