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Aspiring Restaurateur Starts High School Grill Club, Fires Up for Charity

EDISON PARK — Bobby Dombai has taken the art of tailgating into high school club form.

The 18-year-old senior and Edison Park resident is the founder and president of the Notre Dame College Prep Grill Club, which cooks anything from hot dogs, brats and gourmet burgers to steaks and tacos on the club's pair of six-foot-long charcoal-filled beds.

"It's basically a tailgate," Dombai said. "We play bags when we're not grilling, and we get to eat some bomb food and have a good time."

Dombai has been cooking since he was 7 years old, when his dad Tom, an attorney for the city, taught him to make pancakes. Since then, he's been making "anything and everything," like Mexican food, Malibu chicken (bird breasts topped with pesto, sliced tomato and sliced mozzarella deli cheese) and even Thanksgiving dinner for his family.

Justin Breen says about 20 students participate in the class tailgate:

After he graduates later this school year, he's heading to Ball State University for the school's Hospitality and Food Management Program, with goals of becoming a restaurant owner. He already works as a busboy at Nonno Pino's in Edison Park to learn the business from the ground up.

"I've wanted to do this basically my whole life," Dombai said.

Dombai first approached NDCP English Department chair Mike Galeno during his sophomore year about the grill club idea. Last year, the club had a few events, but it's gained far more popularity in 2014-15.

The club has about 20 student members and has grilled at more than 20 events this school year, Galeno said. Its next event is making food for the "Back to the Future" movie night at school Friday.

"The grill club has led to many of the guys taking pride in what they eat," said Galeno, of Roscoe Village. "They're proud of what they're cooking up on the grill and they love eating it in large quantities."

The quantity of food produced depends on the event, but a recent example of the club's abilities was a Dons varsity tennis match where it grilled 100 hot dogs and 100 brats. The club also performed prep work, chopping and marinating peppers and onions.

The club has a budget paid in part from the school's activities fund, Dombai said. Galeno said it also raises money for other groups, including a $300 donation to an NDCP Summer Service trip after selling over 150 tacos.

There's at least one other high school grill club in the Midwest — Hudson (Ohio) High has one — but Galeno and Dombai believe NDCP's provides a unique experience.

And, Galeno said, it's a stomach-filling one, too.

"I think the club is popular because the Notre Dame Don loves to eat," he said.

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