On the road: Advanced Mass Media Class takes on Culinary Center

The following articles are a part of the series “Inkblot on the Road,” in which the Inkblot travels to other schools within the Monmouth County Vocational School District.

Westlake Singles Club Lets Older Women Make New Friends in Their Golden Years


Some think old age is a sentence to loneliness, but members of the West Lake Singles say their golden years are a blast.

For the past ten years, this Jackson Township club has been accepting any member who wishes to join. Almost exclusively women, the group provides a tight-knit clique with the opportunity to make close friends in the late stages of life. When the club first started, there were 35 members. Today, there are roughly 175 members ranging from ages 50 to 80

Along with living together in a gated community, members of the club often go on trips together as a way to get out in the world. Such trips include going to New York to see Broadway plays and frequently eating out. On a recent day, they went to the Culinary Education Center on April 20, 2023 for a luncheon. The Center is a vocational high school in which students learn how to cook in a real-world environment.

From trips to luncheons, these women have been through it all together. One member, Terri Liebstein, explained how this togetherness has positively affected their lives.

“A lot of these women are looking for things to do because they don’t have a partner,” Liebstein said. “Let’s face it: in the world today, a lot of it’s all about couples.”

More than anything, this club offers a close-knit circle of friends to those who need it the most. A common thread between many of the members is that they had lost someone close in their lives.

“It’s a community that we all found when we lost our mates,” one member, Arlene Geist said. “We all share something in common.”

This exact scenario is something member Rose McGarr, one of the youngest in the club, found herself in eleven months ago. Prior to joining the club, McGarr had recently lost her husband. Added onto this loss was the departure of her children to college. Alone, McGarr needed a way out.

The Westlake club immediately caught her eyes for one specific reason: the amount of people out and about. Just from a glimpse of how the community interacted with each other, she saw an opportunity that was not presented anywhere else in her life.

“It took me a year to find a place like this where there’s a lot of activity,” McGarr said. “A lot of these places you go to, there’s just nobody around and every time I went to look at a house here, there were people out walking.”

Though it’s been less than a year since she’s joined the club, McGarr has truly found a home in this community. At the Culinary Education Center, her friends took a jab at the fact that she seemingly knew everyone. According to them, McGarr was friendly with almost everyone in the group, even people they had no idea McGarr had ever interacted with. Even in her short stay, McGarr has clearly found a welcoming community.

While the Westlake club has had plenty of outside trips, there is nothing short to do inside. As McGarr explained, members are constantly outside, leisurely engaging with each other. On the more intense side, the club offers various activities for the seniors to sharpen their competitive edge, such as tennis and pickleball.

“It’s like a cruise ship that never leaves,” McGarr explained.

Even in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the club still socially prospered. The group gathered on each other’s driveways to discuss life with one another at a safe six-foot distance. Though small, these proved to help a lot of the seniors through the loneliness of the pandemic.

It is this common theme of rejecting loneliness that binds the members of the Westlake singles. For many, there was not much left to do in their life, which gave more personal meaning to the club.

“It has really saved whatever little sanity I had,” Former club president Irene McCusker said. “I would have gone crazy after I retired. This was really a lifesaver”

It’s safe to say that for most members, Westlake is much more than a club. It represents the closest people in their lives, ones they truly care about.

“This is family now,” member Lois Sievewright said. “We’re very happy together and we endure through a lot of things because we have each other to share.”

As a room full of seniors ate and laughed in the dining hall of the Culinary Education Center, it was clear to see how this family is able to come together. At the end of the day, the Westlake Singles Club is able to reframe the narrative of the Twilight Years. With the help of the club, these seniors now have a positive outlook on the last half of their lives.

“I think when you get to our age, your outlook on things is different,” Lieblein said. “Every day’s important, so you do what you need to do to have a good life.”


Students hungry for career-readiness find success at Culinary Education Center


At a dining table nestled between a bustling commercial kitchen and a quaint, yet lively bakery, Gabriela Hernandez-Ramirez logs on to Zoom. She’s in the midst of preparing to study abroad — Hernandez-Ramirez, a Brookdale Community College student from Long Branch, is going to Japan.

However, unlike many other college students who study abroad, Hernandez-Ramirez isn’t traveling to Japan with any of her classmates or teachers — in fact, she’s not even going to be studying at a school in Japan. Hernandez-Ramirez is traveling to work and study in a Yakitori bar, where she will learn traditional Japanese culinary arts.

Darin Muly, her former teacher, can barely conceal his pride when he talks about Hernandez-Ramirez’s accomplishments.

“That blew my mind when she was like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to Japan,’” Muly said.

Muly and Hernandez-Ramirez are both part of the Culinary Education Center located in Asbury Park, New Jersey — a shared-time program that operates in conjunction with the Monmouth County Vocational School District (MCVSD) and Brookdale Community College.

The school welcomes high school and college students with a particular inclination towards the culinary arts, fostering their passion for cooking and shaping it into career-readiness.

Hernandez-Ramirez is a shining example of why the Culinary Education Center places such emphasis on career-preparation in their curriculum. For many students, their time in the program is what propels them into a job upon graduation.

“We’ve seen the outside and what goes on in the kitchen working in commercial kitchens – we were all chefs somewhere else,” Muly, who has worked with the Culinary program for 25 years, said of the educators. “Then coming in here to teach, it gets them [the students] ready for the job.”

Part of what makes the Culinary Center’s curriculum so effective in terms of career-readiness is the incorporation of hands-on experience — not just in the kitchen, but in the other aspects of the culinary industry. This allows students to graduate from the program as well-rounded individuals who know how to operate in practically any area of the restaurant industry.

Students in the Culinary program take several courses that place particular emphasis on learning how to interact with the public, such as Dining Room Management and Kitchen Production. As Muly puts it, “Being able to talk to people, that’s big.”

“If you’re not a personable person, this business will eat you alive,” Muly said. “I’ve seen the person that goes and sits in the corner, they don’t make it too far.”

In order to provide their students with ample opportunities to interact with the public, the Culinary Education Center opens its doors during the school day to paying customers hungry to see what the program has to offer.

These customers can sit down for a meal in the dining room or purchase arrays of cookies, breads and other baked goods from students in the bakery to name a few options.

“I think this is an amazing part of the program,” Hernandez-Ramirez said. “We get to have this sense of, ‘okay, this is our responsibility now,’ so you really have to start getting into that gear.”

One of the Culinary Center’s returning customers is the Westlake Singles Club, also known as the “Singular Sensations” from Jackson, New Jersey, a club dedicated to providing single senior citizens with opportunities to go on outings in the company of their peers.

The Westlake Singles have been dining at the Culinary Center for several years now, returning this year on Thursday, April 20 as a party of 40. Jean Corrigan, vice president of the Westlake Singles Club, explained that they enjoy dining at the Culinary Center each year as a way to show their support for the work the students and staff of the Culinary Center are doing.

“About five years ago, somebody told me about the school and I called them. They were so gracious, they said ‘come on over whenever,’ and this is how we started,” Corrigan said. “This way, we support them and we let them know we appreciate them.”

For Muly, it’s that same feeling of appreciation and support for his students that fuels his passion for his job as a teacher in the MCVSD.

“I like to have fun and watch the kids learn,” Muly explained. “I enjoy working with these kids.”

Muly often reminds his students to “never be satisfied with your last plate,” as there is always more to learn and ways to improve.

“That’s that drive that keeps you going,” he said.

That drive is clear within Hernandez-Ramirez and the effort she puts in to accomplish her goals — one of which is to open a Mexican-Japanese fusion restaurant in the future.

“My mother loves to cook — she was one of my inspirations and motivations to learn to cook — and she’s always wanted to have a restaurant,” Hernandez-Ramirez said. “So I want to open up a fusion.”

Hernandez-Ramirez’s dreams of opening a fusion restaurant puts what brings the students and staff of the Culinary Education Center together each day on full display: a universal love of food.

“It’s all about food, it really is,” Muly said. “And that’s it. Food brings everything together.”


Past and present celebrated at Westlake Singles Club meeting in Culinary Center


There is always a defined balance between the two sides of a restaurant.

Outside, in the “front of the house,” there is a calm ambience. Wine glasses clink, laughter fills the air and dishes laden with aromatic items are carried out from the “back of the house,” the kitchen, by a frantic waiter checking on their five tables simultaneously.

Stick a GoPro on that waiter as they circle back into the kitchen and you’ll be transported through the swinging doors into a cacophony of sounds, chefs plating steaming food as servers prepare to deliver orders and bussers frantically toss dirtied plates into the sink before rushing out to sanitize and reset the tables.

It’s fitting that the chefs at the Culinary Education Center in Asbury Park on Thursday, April 20 were in high school and the diners, members of the Westlake Singles Club, were in the twilight of their life. As the elderly patrons dined calmly, students wearing white aprons with their names embroidered scurried to and from each table, clearing places and presenting coffee to their diners.

The event, a luncheon put on by the Jackson-based club, was an unusual opportunity for the students at the Center, which is a collaboration between Brookdale Community College and the Monmouth County Vocational School District.

“We don’t really have many people that come in, so something like this with such a high volume is really shocking and it’s a lot for us to deal with,” said Alyssa Molloy, a 12th-grade chef from Middletown who enlisted in the U.S. Navy last week. “I really like the fast pace, though, and we have a lot more kids that are working with us, so it’s great.”

The Center, located in Asbury Park, has 61 high-school students. It is a shared-time program, meaning the students attend their home high schools for half of the day and take classes at the Center for the other half.

First-year students, who are typically juniors, are in the “Level 1” program and go to the Center in the morning. Senior students and those exceptionally skilled at cooking are in the “Level 2” program and go to the Center in the afternoon.

A collegiate program at the Center is also taught in conjunction with Brookdale’s curriculum. These students are able to graduate from the Center with an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree in Culinary Arts and enter the culinary field.

The high school students have dual enrollment status with the college and receive 15.5 credits upon graduating.

Gabriella Hernandez-Ramirez, a student in Brookdale’s program, spent time in the vocational school and only needed to take a few months of classes before she was able to graduate with her associate degree. She will embark on an internship in Japan in the coming months.

“Advanced Kitchen Production [was a class that really prepared me],” Hernandez-Ramirez said. “It helped me in my job to be prepared and have that mindset of, okay, you’re gonna serve people.”

The high school students in the room across the hall from the Brookdale class were serving people that morning –– a whole roomful, in fact.

The Westlake Singles Club is a club located within the Westlake Golf and Country Club community, a 55-and-older community in Jackson Township. Members boast of having access to amenities such as both an indoor and outdoor pool, a pickleball court and a gym. It also helps that they live on a golf course.

“It’s an adult day camp,” said Rose McGarr, who moved to the community 11 months ago. “It took me a year to find the right place, and then I knew when I was [at Westlake] that it was the right place for me.”

The club meets for luncheons, hosts dances and sponsors outings for their members. They have gone to Broadway in the past. They, according to member Arlene Geist, provide a support system for those who are bereaved.

“[The club] is camaraderie, it’s companionship, it’s friendship,” Geist said. “It’s a community that we all found after we lost our mates, and we all share something in common.”

The club has dined at the Culinary Institute in the past and always appreciates the food and service they provide. Most importantly, they get to witness the future of America in action.

“It helps us appreciate the young people,” said member Lois Sievewright. “The really good young people are contributing so much and helping to move our country forward.”