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A Dutch revival: Oak Harbor High’s culinary arts students bring back Holland Happening dinner
Nobody ever said restoring an Oak Harbor tradition as big as the Dutch Dinner would be easy.
For Nathan Yoast, the effort actually brought him to tears.
Yoast couldn’t take it anymore Wednesday as he set down his knife and rinsed his eyes after chopping dozens of onions in the culinary arts class at Oak Harbor High School.
He is one of several students tasked with reviving a longtime Holland Happening occasion that has been missing in recent years.
Thanks to a boost from the Oak Harbor culinary arts program and its instructor, Mary Arthur, the authentic Dutch Dinner is back. It takes place 5:30-7:30 p.m. April 25 at the First Reformed Church in Oak Harbor.
About half of the 400 tickets have been sold so far to an event that was a mainstay at the church for more than 20 years until coming to an end three years ago, according to former Holland Happening entertainment chairperson Jan Ellis.
“I was delighted, just delighted,” Ellis said. “The older gals that were in charge of that, some of them passed on and you just burn out. This is a great project for the culinary arts group. They are going to serve just about everything on the (original) menu.”
Ellis, who’s been a part of every Holland Happening event since it started 45 years ago, furnished the authentic Dutch dinner menu after the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce was successful in recruiting the high school’s decorated culinary arts program.
“When I got the job here a little over a year ago, one of the first things people started asking me about was, ‘Are you going to bring back the Dutch dinner,’” said Kathy Reed, the chamber’s executive director. “I was like, ‘I don’t know. Tell me about it.’”
The dinner is a warm-up to Holland Happening, Oak Harbor’s Dutch celebration that features most of its events April 26-27.
The dinner will consist of erwtensoep (traditional Dutch split pea soup), hutspot (mashed potatoes with carrots and onions), gehaktballen (Dutch meatballs) and roggebrood (rye bread).
Since the culinary arts students don’t work with deep- fried foods, the traditional Dutch donuts known as Olie Bollen will be replaced on the dessert menu with a Dutch butter cake called boterkoek.
“They are using authentic recipes,” Ellis said.
The experience has been enriching for the students, many who have never tasted Dutch food before.
They prepared all of the dishes recently to sample and tinker a little with the flavor. Some students who swore they didn’t like peas ended up enjoying the split pea soup, Arthur said.
“It was nice for them to be able to experience a cuisine that was not what they would normally have and really enjoy the food,” Arthur said.
“I think it’s pretty cool that we get to do this,” junior Jose Lupos said. “There are other caterers out there but they chose our high school.”
Oak Harbor’s culinary arts program, mentored by chef Scott Fraser of Frasers Gourmet Hideaway, has advanced to a national competition seven of the past eight years.
The culinary arts students make up Wildcat Catering, which serves to several community events each year.
Students learn the basics of cooking in a class called “Food for Today” before advancing to culinary arts.
“We come here and it’s like catering on a mass scale,” senior Sheyenne Sams said. “It’s pretty intense. Yesterday, we made like 200 cinnamon rolls in two hours. It’s different. Chef, she doesn’t get angry, but she wants stuff done the way she wants it done.”
Wednesday, that meant chopping then caramelizing onions for the Hutspot. They would prepare, then freeze enough to serve more than 200 people at the Dutch dinner.
“After a while, it starts to bug your eyes,” Yoast said of the onions.
Preparing Dutch food has been an eye-opener for senior Devynn Williams, too.
“Some of them sounded kind of weird,” she said. “I don’t know how to say almost any of them except for hutspot.”
And that’s progress for Williams, who’s lived in Oak Harbor her whole life.
“I never honestly knew what Holland Happening was,” she said. “I didn’t even know it was a Dutch holiday And now I do.”
Tickets for the Dutch dinner are $15. They may be purchased at the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce or two sites in Coupeville — bayleaf on Coveland Street or Cascade Insurance Agency on Main.