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Food column: Helms College students serve up pizza with a multi-national flair

(Disclaimer: Any opinion in this column is that of its author.)

(Featured photo: Helm’s College culinary student Jennifer Collins plates a Caribbean jerk chicken pizza near the pizza oven at Edgar’s Grille.  Ron Baxley Jr./Augusta Good News)

Photo by: Ron Baxley, Jr.

I recently had a much-needed Caribbean vacation.

And I did not even leave Augusta. 

Helm’s College culinary student Jennifer Collins served up a virtual Caribbean vacation for me (and others) on a pizza crust recently. Collins’ Zesty Caribbean Jerk Chicken Pizza is the featured pizza of the week Aug. 14 at the pizza bar at Edgar’s Grille.

Instructor and Chef Jana Stewart brainstormed the pizza bar, which has culinary decisions made by students with direction and guidance from the instructor.

Collins concurred with me that her creation reminds one of vacation and one of her favorite places to travel — Jamaica.

“One of my favorites in Jamaica is the jerk chicken. I wanted to put that on a pizza,” she said.

Collins’ creation had grilled chicken with a Caribbean jerk sauce on it. The sauce tasted quite spicy and came through quite well but was not overly spicy. 

Helm’s College culinary student Jennifer Collins pulls out a Caribbean jerk chicken pizza which has finished cooking in the oven. Ron Baxley Jr.,/Augusta Good News

Next, I crunched into the crust, which was well-done and just had the tiniest bit of expected char to it but was not burned. Collins cooked the crust to a nice golden brown for the most part. 

As I took the first bite of everything together, what I noticed was that the fresh vegetables and sweet fruit used on the pizza created additional texture, and they were not overcooked. The student chef made sure the sliced bell peppers and pineapple chunks retained their flavors. 

The heat of the spices in the Caribbean jerk sauce still came through after a few bites, but they did not overpower the pizza overall. A sweet house-made mango and pineapple cream sauce counteracted the spice the way dairy, such as the traditional mozzarella cheese in this dish, does a lot of other spicy foods.

“I created a mango pineapple cream sauce as the base. It cuts the spiciness. The pizza itself is sweet and spicy.” Collins said.

I did not taste the hint of lime mentioned in a description of the dish, but the flavors amazed me overall.

Collins said some spices that she used in the jerk sauce were proprietary, but she mentioned ginger, green onions and allspice.

Chef Stewart, Collins’ culinary instructor, teaches the fourth quarter “front and back of house.”

Stewart said the pizza station has been up and running since 2022. She led students on the current menu’s pizzas, including pork belly, caprese and basic. Then, she decided to let them come up with their own ideas.

Pizza Caribbean-style at Edgar’s Grille. Ron Baxley Jr./ Augusta Good News

“This was a test run. We had all of the students come up with their own recipes. They presented them to the class. The class chose three. This has gotten so much attention that we are going to have it as a weekly feature,” she said.

The students not only had to come up with their own recipes but had to cost them out individually.

 “They had to come up with a final recipe, so they could train the others,” said Stewart.

Next, Collins said that not only was she influenced by Stewart but by a “friend of a friend who is Caribbean” and the Chef de cuisine at Edgar’s Grille, Raphael Hewitte, who Collins said is Jamaican.

So far, three other students’ pizza creations have been or will be featured in the restaurant with others to follow.

Student Ashley Schropp created the previous week’s pizza selection which was a savory French onion pizza.

“It’s a soup that my family and I have always made since I was a little kid,” she said.

Schropp wrote down on the recipe for the other students that it was a deconstructed French onion soup pizza. Promotional materials enticed guests to “indulge in the French and Italian flavors of Ashley’s deconstructed French Onion Soup Pizza. It has a thin crisp crust with an aromatic garlic oil base, topped with a generous layer of shredded mozzarella cheese melted over slow-cooked caramelized onions, and finished with our garden-fresh thyme and a sprinkle of grated parmesan cheese.”

Students Chance Feutral and Mario Davis have worked on the pizza scheduled for the week of Aug. 21.

Helm’s College culinary students Jennifer Collins, Chance Feutral, Mario Davis, and Ashley Schropp hold a pan of balls of pizza dough while their instructor, Chef Jana Stewart, stands beside them at the bar at Edgar’s Grille. Ron Baxley Jr.,/Augusta Good News

 “This pizza starts out with a gouda cheese cream sauce as the base and topped with shredded mozzarella cheese. Caramelized onions, sautéed bell peppers, mushrooms, bacon, and diced steak tips settle into the gooey richness. -Finished with our house-made garlic oil,” according to promotional materials.

Feutral and Davis both agreed that Feutral came up with the original idea, and Davis embellished it.

 “We labeled it as a Philly cheese steak pizza. It had different elements that would not be on a Philly cheese steak,” said Feutral.

Instead of a marinara style pizza sauce, they used parmesan and mozzarella similar to an alfredo sauce.

 “I added the caramelized onions and mushrooms,” said Davis.

While Davis also focused on the dough, Feutral did other toppings and the sauce.

Stewart said the dough all the students create is a Neapolitan-style dough, and it does have yeast in it to make it rise.  

Finally, I must close with some other aspects which added to the pleasure of my meal. I liked the professional presentation of my side salad and the subtlety of the vinaigrette dressing drizzled on it as well as how garden-fresh the vegetables tasted. In addition, the restaurant itself has nice, contemporary decor. 

Five stars to the star student (and the overall students who work in Edgar’s Grille and the restaurant itself). 

Correspondent Ron Baxley Jr. is a veteran journalist who has worked with multiple news organizations in his career. Subscribe to the Augusta Good News’ newsletter here.

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