Although the weekend was looming, the culinary-arts program's kitchen was full of activity April 27 at the South-Western Career Academy.

The students were putting the finishing touches on dinner -- for 140 guests, give or take a few.

As a senior capstone project, students in the program planned, prepared and served dinner for the Grove City Chamber Foundation's annual fundraiser held April 27.

This year's capstone project proved more challenging than those previous senior classes had been given, said chef Chris Wright, the culinary arts program's instructor.

"It's a project that gave the students a more authentic real-life work experience," Wright said. "Just like a real caterer, they've had to submit a bid for the job, submit a menu and get it approved by the client, cost out the menu and create a schedule of who's going to do what task at the event itself.

"It's a chance to put into practice everything they've learned in our classes," he said.

The project represented 20 percent of their grade for seniors, Wright said. They received assistance from juniors in the culinary-arts program, although the juniors were not graded.

"The seniors had to oversee the work the juniors were doing," he said. "That's part of a job of a caterer -- managing a team to get an assignment completed."

The chamber foundation's event was a logical choice for the capstone project, he said.

"It's a community event and the foundation is an organization that supports education as its mission," Wright said.

Students were not going to be graded on whether everything went off without a hitch, he said.

"Something unexpected happens at every event you cater," Wright said. "The question is how do you respond. That's what I'm going to look for -- how do you react to a problem and make sure that your guests have an enjoyable meal and evening."

Senior Mike Lafata said he and his classmates worked hard to make sure they were prepared for anything.

"You try to think of anything that might go wrong and prepare for it just in case," he said.

The students worked with the chamber to plan the evening's menu, Lafata said.

"The chamber suggested some things, like they wanted pork tenderloin as a main course, and we suggested some things, too, like candied carrots and three desserts -- cannoli, cupcakes and strawberry-pound cake," he said.

Lafata's favorite part of the project was the actual cooking.

"I'm the guy in my family, when we have a barbecue, who cooks the food," he said. "I love getting started in the morning and spending the whole day putting the food on the grill and tending to it.

"I love the satisfaction you get when people are enjoying the food you've prepared," Lafata said.

His grandfather served as a cook in the U.S. Navy, "and my mom and grandmother tell me he's probably where my cooking 'gene' comes from," he said.

Lafata said he would like to own a barbecue restaurant.

"I'm going to call it George's Western BBQ in honor of my grandfather," he said.

Senior Stacy Suero said the capstone project was a fun challenge.

"It was fun coming up with the menu and figuring out ideas of what we could cook for more than 100 people," she said. "One of the things we've really been thinking about is making sure we time everything out just right. We want the food to be hot and fresh when we're serving it."

Suero said her career goal will be to work in the business side of the culinary-arts field.

"I want to be the person who is managing the books and getting the supplies they need to cook the meals in the kitchen," she said.

The grades that Wright would give the students had yet to be determined, but Marilyn Reiner, events manager for the chamber, said the seniors deserve an A.

"It was wonderful," she said about the meal, the service and the students' demeanor.

"They probably did a better job than you would usually expect at an event like this," Reiner said. "They were personable and attentive. It was a buffet-type meal, and I was impressed that when you went up to their pan in line, the students weren't just putting food on your plate. They were announcing what they were serving and asking you if you would care for some.

"I think we would be more than pleased to have them cater our event again," she said. "They are just a wonderful group of young people."