Live cooking challenge at Santa Cruz museum benefits vibrant high school culinary program

Advanced instructor Andrea Mollenauer and assistant instructor Christopher Stephenson from the ROP program are competing at Fire It Up! on March 1. Photo credit: Karen Lemon (also an ROP instructor--in digital photography)

Advanced instructor Andrea Mollenauer & assistant instructor Christopher Stephenson from the ROP program are competing at Fire It Up! on March 1. Photo credit: Karen Lemon (also an ROP instructor–in digital photography)

Tickets are going fast for “Fire It Up!,” an upcoming Santa Cruz event with a culinary student showcase and a live chef competition, with the fun-sounding evening benefiting Santa Cruz’s vibrant high school culinary ROP (Regional  Occupational Program).

The event is March 1, 2014 at 5pm, at the Santa Cruz MAH (Museum of Art & History). Attendees get to sample 10 student-created signature hors d’oeuvres in the student culinary showcase and are given a “Best of Show” ballot to vote for their favorite. Then they get to see the chef vs. chef entertainment which features Chef Andrea Mollenauer and Chef Christopher Stephenson. There will also be a cheese display and beverage table for guests’ consumption.

Chef Andrea, Advanced Instructor for the ROP Culinary class and the talented woman behind this event, owns and operates Lifestyle Culinary Arts catering and special events company. She also  runs Front Street Kitchen, a community-minded commercial kitchen that houses Lifestyle as well as several delicious, independent food producers including Cardamom Tuesday Silk Road Elixirs. Front Street is the location of the ROP culinary classes too.

Chef Andrea created Fire It Up! for many reasons, including the opportunity to showcase her talented students, spread the word about the ROP program, and create a unique evening for the local community. “It occurred to me that as a caterer and event planner, with the engagement of my community, I could put on a smashing event to benefit the students and the program,” she says. “The intention was to give the students a big opportunity to gain hands-on work experience through the creation of a real work-based event (menu creation and testing, ticket sales and donation requests, event prep and service for 200 people!) — with the added benefit of raising much needed funds for our program.”

Buy your $30 tickets (there won’t be any at the door) or get more information by contacting Chef Andrea ASAP at 831-588-4515 or

Event proceeds will go towards classroom materials, food, equipment, and student scholarships for the ROP Culinary Program, which offers career and technical training to Santa Cruz County high school students. Chef Andrea launched this popular program eight years ago to teach students real-world skills in a professional kitchen environment. It provides college-level culinary training for hundreds of Santa Cruz high school students and articulates with Cabrillo College, offering students transferable units. Many students pursue advanced cooking education at Cabrillo College and other schools.

I, for one, am planning to attend! It sounds like a great time, and I want to support this worthy program. I bought cookies from the ROP students at their holiday bake sale in December—the sweets were beautiful and tasty, and I enjoyed meeting a couple of the chefs.

Unfamiliar with ROP? It’s a department of the Santa Cruz County Office of Education and provides students with the opportunity to acquire career training and technical skills that prepare them for success in a changing workplace and continuing education.  Read more here.

Follow me on Twitter @santacruzfoodie.

Fire It Up! location: Santa Cruz MAH, 705 Front St, Santa Cruz