FAIRFIELD — Cinnamon sticks simmer in steaming milk, filling the room with the warm smell of spice.

As one Fairfield Ludlowe High School senior stirs his creation, he details the tweaks he made to the recipe, a mixture of chopped dark chocolate, cayenne pepper, almond extract. Topped with a dusting of powdered sugar, he offers a Mexican hot chocolate.

The dessert creation was part of a night of “sweet bites” with five students from Ludlowe’s food-services course, the class that runs Falcon’s Nest.

The student-run restaurant offers faculty lunches each school day and caters on the side, for events at the library, high school or senior center, among its patrons.

The program is intended to offer a career pathway into the hospitality and culinary world for interested students, said Rachel Keleher, who teaches the class and helps oversee the restaurant. When she joined Ludlowe 11 years ago, the restaurant served three faculty lunches each week, but the program has grown as Keleher added service days and outside events.

“One of the huge buzzwords right now is performance-based learning, performance-based assessments and obviously what we do is performance-based,” the family and consumer science teacher said. “Everything we do, it’s authentic.”

Cooking for an event or audience brings a sense of reality for students, Keleher added, and forces students to think about who they are serving.

“When we cook real food for real people,” she said, “that brings it home.”

Students take an introductory course, a global cooking class, and a baking and pastry class before food services, the class where they work on service, cooking and catering. Some, Keleher said, are set on culinary school, while others may simply have a curiosity and interest in the field. To help students find their way, the food services course brings in presenters from culinary schools including the Culinary Institute of America, Johnson & Wales and Norwalk Community College.

Senior Krystian Wierzgacz, who cooked the Mexican hot chocolate at the event, said while a culinary career could be in his future, for now is just glad to get the experience.

“I think it’s been really good, definitely an enjoyable ride,” he said. “A lot of fun, learning of new things, so overall I’m happy I got the experience.”

Daily faculty menus usually offer choices of a salad, panini or casserole, dessert and two soups, one of which is vegetarian. As winter fades away, students switch out the soups for warmer-weather picks like smoothies. For catering appetizers or luncheons, the menu planning can take creative turns.

Jane Siefert, of the Fairfield Public Library where the Tuesday night dessert showcase was held as part of a “What’s Cooking” series, called the restaurant the library’s “lifeline.” The Falcon’s Nest caters their luncheons and receptions and whatever the theme of the event — from Morocco to Hungary to the Titanic to a Madeline tea party — the students will craft a themed menu that gets guests excited to try a foreign or creative cuisine, she said.

At Tuesday’s sweet bites event, sophomore Kyle Nagy demonstrated garnishes for his made-from-scratch chocolate mousse, senior Will Russo crafted a vanilla custard yogurt parfait with berries, sophomore Colin Agostisi plated a berry parfait and senior Rhys Schaper added whipped cream and raspberry glaze to a chocolate raspberry cake.

For Agostisi, taking the class has offered a fun way to learn a necessary life skill. But instead of just cooking, he said, he wanted to be able to make dishes “beyond good.”

Lweiss@hearstmediact.com; @LauraEWeiss16