For the week of June 2, 1999  thru June 8, 1999  

Look out Zagat, here comes Zygaj

Alternative school graduate heads for culinary school

Express Staff Writer

It would seem that the Wood River Valley is trying to get rid of one of its more promising students, Christopher Zygaj.

The Silver Creek Alternative School senior was the recipient of two $1,000 scholarships last week—one from the Rotary Club and from one from the Building Contractors Association.

And on Tuesday night, Zygaj was awarded the Wood River Odd Fellows and Rebekahs "Frank Morrison Memorial Scholarship," which offers $1,000 per academic year.

Those scholarships are making it possible for Zygaj to attend the Western Culinary Institute in Portland, Ore. this fall.

It has been a dream—no, a determination—of Zygaj’s to become a chef, ever since he began working in restaurants.

"I like to be able to cook and to please an audience," Zygaj said.

Zygaj has been a student of the culinary arts in various restaurants in the Wood River Valley, such as the Wild Radish, Esta, Shorty’s and most recently at Bellevue’s Full Moon.

"Everybody has to eat, so you might as well make it good," Zygaj said of his culinary philosophy.

Once he started working at the Full Moon, Zygaj developed an immediate rapport with chef and owner Brian Ahern.

Zygaj excelled there and became an assistant to Ahern within weeks after he started.

"Brian’s my mentor," Zygaj said. "He started off working in different restaurants and now he owns his own. I want to be just like him."

Once mastering his art, Zygaj said he wants to open up a restaurant with a menu like Full Moon’s but with a dance club attached.

Zygaj has also been a diligent student in the classroom, yanking up a grade point average that had slumped at Wood River High School.

"When I came out of Wood River High School, I couldn’t even pass pre-algebra," Zygaj said. "At the alternative school, I got an ‘A’ in geometry. I realized that I could actually learn the stuff."

The family atmosphere at the alternative school was an important component to his learning, Zygaj said.

"[Teacher] Barge [Levy] makes a real effort to get through to you, to make a connection," Zygaj said. "At the high school, teachers weren’t able to take the time to explain things and make sure you didn’t get lost in the dust. At the alternative school, you work at your own rate, and you can progress."

Zygaj plans to take on two jobs in addition to his regular shift at Full Moon so he can make enough money to settle in Portland comfortably.

Portland, there can be no doubt, is on Zygaj’s mind.

"I cannot wait to go to school," Zygaj said, clenching his fists.

After culinary school, Zygaj might travel to Europe.

"I want to experience a different culture," he said. "I know I won’t make much money there. I just want the experience. I’ve had so many bad experiences. I need to have some good ones now."

Zygaj graduates with five other alternative school seniors on Friday.

"That’s the day I can’t wait for," he said.

The Frank Morrison Memorial Scholarship is one of five scholarships awarded by the Odd Fellows and Rebekahs fund. It is given to recipients who are planning careers in the restaurant business. Frank Morrison, a member of the Alturas Lodge No. 13, I.O.O.F., who died in 1994, was a chef for the Union Pacific Railroad at Sun Valley and was also a chef in Ketchum.


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