Rice pork belly with scallops and red wine sauce sizzled in a pan as Virginia College culinary arts students Jose Capo and Kimberly Subject prepared food for the school's Magic Kingdom Grand Buffet.
The quarterly event marked the students' last hurdle before an 11-week externship and the chance to land a job at one of the most visited vacation resorts in the world.
"We send externs to Disney," said chef Jim Gallivan, program director.
Externships are similar to internships in that they give participants practical experience in a field of study.
Capo and Subject are among six top students nearly finished with the 36-week culinary arts course who will meet with a Disney recruiter visiting the school this month.
If they make that cut, they meet with more chefs in Florida who could give them a job.
Virginia College is one of the major college suppliers of new chefs to Disney and other theme parks, said chef instructor Nick Thiers.
Adam York, a 2016 Culinary Arts graduate, recently landed a job at Universal Studios, Thiers said.
Capo and Subject showed off their culinary skills for parents and supporters attending the Magic Kingdom Grand Buffet earlier this month.
"Oh man, get you some," said Capo as dozens of friends and supporters stepped into the classroom and formed a line for food.
This is where students take the skills they've learned and put them all together, said Gallivan.
Those who finish the course get a certificate of completion and the knowledge to be better chefs.
At age 53, Capo has worked in food services for 28 years and done everything from washing dishes to cooking, but he didn't understand as much as he does until attending Virginia College.
"I've learned more in the last year than I have in the past 27 years altogether," said Capo.
Most restaurants only teach what workers need to know to do a job. When the worker wants to know more, he has to go somewhere else, said Gallivan.
"When you get to culinary school, you learn the whys and hows of all the stuff you've been learning from someone who had no idea of how to do it," he said.
Capo made a dish with braised pork belly and pan-seared scallops with mixed berry compote and microgreens. He called it Surf and Turf Spoons. Then he prepared homemade sausage sauteed with assorted garden veggies and tossed with an Italian pesto Alfredo.
Subject, the quieter of the cooks, made Pork Roulade and Ellijay Pastries. Her dish included sous vide pork tenderloin rolled with apples and pecans atop a bed of feta whipped potatoes and maple brandy reduction.
She made the Ellijay Pastries with apples from Ellijay, Ga., rolled into rose pastries and glazed with apricot honey.
Subject enrolled in the school after her children went off to college. She said the best part has been learning more.
"Understanding the hows and whys lets me broaden my horizon and create new things," she said.
Several diners commented on how delicious the food tasted.
"I've had everything, and it was all very good," said Allison Fulghum.
She came to support Capo, who works at 1885 Grill, where Fulghum's husband is a manager.
Local cookbook author J. Lucy Boyd said she "especially liked the apple dessert and the sausage and pasta and the feta mashed potatoes. Excellent."
Contact Yolanda Putman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6431.