Cadets man the cooktops for life lesson in East Lyme

East Lyme — In a few months, the Coast Guard Academy's Class of 2019 will be out in the fleet, living on their own. While their four years at the academy have prepared them well for being leaders in the service, there's one thing it hasn't taught them: how to cook.

Twenty first-class cadets, or seniors — 17 men and three women — took part in a cooking class Monday night at Flanders Fish Market & Restaurant as part of the Life 101 program, sponsored by the academy's alumni association to teach life skills to cadets.

The cooking classes are being offered to groups of 20 cadets on three separate Monday nights. This week's class focused on seafood. Cadets learned how to make three different meals, which take about 25 minutes and cost under $25: Shrimp scampi over angel hair pasta, seared swordfish over white bean ragu, and blackened tuna tacos.

Flanders head chef Olivia Formica led the course, walking the cadets through simple cooking techniques like how to peel and clean shrimp, using pasta water to make a sauce, and to pat dry fish before cooking it.

"Here they are about to go into fleet and they have no real experience cooking for themselves," said Tara King, vice president of communications and marketing for the alumni association.

While many college students usually move off campus by the time they are seniors, cadets live in dormitories all four years.

All of their meals are paid for. But seniors usually eat breakfast and lunch on campus, and order out at night and on weekends.

"All I know how to cook is Chinese food really because that's what I grew up eating, that's what my mom cooked," said Cadet Wilson Zhou, 22. "I thought I'd take this opportunity to learn how to cook other things, like we never used butter, ever. Or cheese."

Cadets took turns cooking. While they did, their classmates snapped pictures of them with their phones, and of the finished product. Many cadets said they had never really cooked before.

When one male cadet tried to flip the shrimp scampi in a pan, after a first successful attempt, a big portion ended up in the stove top. His classmates joked he got too confident after the first try. "I would've done the same thing," one male cadet told him.

Formica told the cadets a good rule of thumb is to cook fish for 10 minutes per inch of thickness. A male cadet promptly wrote that tip down in his recipe packet.

Samuel Lowe, 22, said he was ready to try cooking some of the meals on his own like the blackened tuna tacos.

"It showed that it's not as hard as it looks," Lowe said

As for other life skills he'd like to learn, "I think we're all prepared pretty well, this is just something nice to know how to do," he said.

j.bergman@theday.com

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