Grasso senior returns to his culinary roots

Ella T. Grasso Technical High School senior Lawrence Ravel poses for a photo in the main hallway at the school Thursday, May 31, 2018. Ravel, from New London, will attend the University of Connecticut in the fall.  (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Ella T. Grasso Technical High School senior Lawrence Ravel poses for a photo in the main hallway at the school Thursday, May 31, 2018. Ravel, from New London, will attend the University of Connecticut in the fall. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

Lawrence Ravel has his hands in a lot of things. When he's not at school, excelling in math or helping out with any number of after-school groups, he might be on the track running a 200-meter race, attending a regional leadership conference or working at BJ's in Waterford.

But for his senior project, the New London resident returned to his roots and learned to cook the Dominican dishes he grew up eating.

"I always grew up eating it and everything but I never actually in a sense cooked it," he said. After he served the meal to his family, he said they joked that he has to cook for them now that he knows how to do it.

Ravel's family is from the Dominican Republic, and his dad was a chef, so he grew up surrounded by the cuisine. His time in the kitchen as a kid and desire to try new things inspired him to join the culinary program at Ella T. Grasso Technical High School in Groton, where he could get both academic experience and career training.

For the project, he prepared a three-course dish of pastelillos de carne (similar to empanadas), locrio de pollo (a chicken dish with rice) and a flan/cake hybrid called flancocho. He also gave a presentation on his process from preparation to serving, and he researched the history of the cuisine of the Dominican Republic.

"To see the things that I didn't know that I thought I did was crazy," he said. "You don't think of where the food originates from but actually going in depth and thinking of all the influences that are behind it was fascinating."

Ravel's culinary career will take a back seat when he attends the University of Connecticut in the fall, where he'll major in accounting. He said he loves anything involving numbers but, rather than pursuing a math education degree, he picked accounting because there are more options.

Math teacher Tammy McClellan, whom he had for not only honors geometry and honors pre-calculus but also junior class council advisor, said he is hardworking, organized and trustworthy. She noted his ability to stay focused and compartmentalize his tasks, and if he wasn't able to attend a class council meeting or event himself, he would make sure that whatever needed to be done was done.

She said Ravel's decision to pursue accounting came before she had him in class but she doesn't want him to limit himself. She encouraged him to look at other routes, such as engineering, and to take a variety of classes in colleges in case something new sparks his interest.

He'll keep reaching for bigger and better goals, McClellan said, and any employer would have a great person to work with.

Ravel still is involved with class council, working Thursday morning to set up the Mystic Marriott ballroom for prom. He's also involved with the National Honor Society and returned to track this year after injuries, and he recently attended the regional Rotary Youth Leadership Awards conference.

He said he enjoys the challenge of staying well-rounded and working toward new goals, and the time management skills he learned from the culinary program are helping him balance everything.

"I know if I overwork myself, it's not going to be good for me in the future," he said. "I'm always thinking for the better instead of the things that are worse because I know what I'm doing is going to better me in life."

a.hutchinson@theday.com

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