Informational

My Week In the “Student-Run” Restaurant Kitchen

What is a student-run restaurant?  Well, it is actually a class that culinary students take during their schooling to learn the different elements of running a restaurant.  Since many of the students are looking to own their own places one day, this class gives them a small glimpse of what it might be like.  Granted, this is a very “controlled” glimpse but it is all run by us (the students) with a bit of teacher guidance along the way.  Remember, it is to teach us to swim not leave us to drown.

Last week was my team’s first opportunity to work the kitchen.  It had it ups and downs but overall very successful.

To give you an understanding of how this all works, on Monday the Back of House (BOH) checks with FOH to see  how many reservations are currently on the books.  That is how we know how much food to prep for all our guests.  This week we had a total of 20 reservations  for both Tuesday and Wednesday.  To accommodate the random addition (or late reservations) we figured about 25-30 orders would cover us for both days.  We then start prepping as much as possible, so we aren’t rushing to make everything each day within the three hours before service.

It was French week so the menu consisted of:

Choice of Starter

Parsley Butter Escargot
French onion Soup
Watercress salad with Endive, Tomatoes and Cucumbers

Choice of Entree

Sauteed Frog Legs (that is not a type-o)
Served with Potato Parmentier and Stuffed Swiss Chard
     or
Stuffed Pork Tenderloin
Served with Potatoe Parmentier and Stuffed Swiss Chard

Desserts

Napoleon
Chocolate Mousse Cake
Lemon Soufflé Crepes

With the menu in hand we all divide up into stations: Sou Chef, Hot Station (entrees), Starters and Desserts. 

My first station…..desserts!  Yea!!!  It is no secret that this is my favorite place and joining me is Bri (short for Brianna).  Together we formed the dessert station of efficiency (chaos) streamline (upheaval) and structure (free form).  Ok, maybe it wasn’t as efficient as we thought in our minds.  However, we put out some amazing desserts using some components we were somewhat familiar with…and others we weren’t.  That is what this class is all about – giving us an opportunity to innovate, create and serve great tasting food.  Our challenge was to interpret the desserts the way we wanted to make them. 

And here is our interpretation:

So, by the end of day on Monday, Bri and I had everything prepped as much as we could.  The Napoleons and Mousse Cakes were in the fridge to set over night.  The Lemon Soufflé (lemon pastry cream) was ready for the Crepes to be made on Tuesday.

Tuesday morning comes and the kitchen is starting to hum with the anticipation of the first service for our team.

At precisely 11:30am, the first reservation arrives and everything is working like clockwork.  Service is great and easily managed so by 12:30, our last seating, we have knocked this day out of the park with ease.  Everyone is happy and confident that tomorrow’s service will be even better!  What’s that old saying, “never count your chickens before they hatch”?

It’s now Wednesday morning, 8:30am, and things are a little slower paced in the kitchen.  Almost everything is still prepped from the day before so there are only a few minor things to get ready for today.  I start making up the crepes, Bri makes the whipped cream and prepares the Napoleons.  All that’s left to do is garnish them and send them out the door.  (Today we are making them individually because yesterday we made them as one large Napoleon that was cut into individual pieces — nightmare!!!!  Can I stress that enough…NIGHTMARE!)

It’s now 11:30 and we are ready to rock and roll…but are we?!  Our first reservation is in their seat and the first sign of a rough day begins to appear.  At this time, the Sou Chef realizes we have forgotten to prep more baked potatoes for the entrees.  No baked potatoes???  That is a main component and something we can’t hide or cover up.  If it isn’t on the plate, it isn’t on the plate!  So what is there?  We all jump into action!  I begin cutting potatoes into quarters, someone gets the fryer ready, another grabs some seasoning and cuts up some herbs.  Within a matter of minutes we have enough potatoes cut and ready to fry into wonderful herb and butter potato bites.  They turned out fabulous and no one was the wiser in the dining room.  Now that is what I call thinking on your feet!  But remember, this is only the beginning and there are two more hours of  fun to come.

It is very clear that today will be nothing like yesterday (remember not to count those chickens!)   All of a sudden, 12 o’clock sharp and there is a backup of people waiting to be sat at their table.  This is HIGHLY unusual and without too much ado, they are all seated.  But wait, there are a few more people than we had planned for and it’s only noon!  By 12:30pm the dining room is full and the host is running down the hall looking for a classroom table he can bring in to accommodate the unprecedented amount of guests that are waiting to dine with us.  The kitchen is a full hive of busy bees flying from one station to another doing our best to help anyone get their orders out the door quickly!  I don’t think my head came up to look around once for almost an hour and a half of that service.  By day’s end we had served 35 people (15 over the planned number). 

It’s now 2pm and class has officially ended but we still had people in the dining room enjoying their time.  We, on the other hand, were frantically cleaning and trying to figure out what just happened and how on earth we fed all those people we hadn’t planned on!  We did run out of crepes and croissants (one of the starters) but that was it to my knowledge.  From originally preparing for 20 reservations across 2 days to serving over 40 in total, it was amazing!

By 2:30 everyone has gone, the kitchen is spotless and all is quiet once again.  We are all smiles inside knowing we made it through one of the most difficult days yet.  But now is not the time to pat ourselves on the back.  No, now is the time to read the comment cards!  Comment cards are our way of learning what we did good and what we need improvement upon.  Time to sit down and hear how it “really” went for our first week of service.  Honestly, it wasn’t as brutal as it could have been but definitely not as understanding of what a student-run kitchen is about.  I guess when you hand someone a comment card you are asking for their honest opinion, no matter how vague, brutal or gushingly kind!  The overall report was;  food was great, service was friendly but needed to be quicker, and some didn’t like the fact we ran out of food.  Better luck to us next time!

My new understanding of service is both more compassionate and more judgmental all in one!  A good thing?  I guess it depends on the type of service I end up getting.

If you’re wondering what I thought of the food we made this week.  Awesome Awesome Awesome.  The starters were so flavorful and good, the entrees where great – ok so frog legs aren’t my first choice and I choked on one of the tiny bones in the shin, bleck – and the desserts….what can I say!  They were fabulous with the exception of the Napoleon.  It was a little tough to cut because of the puff pastry but the flavor was amazing.  Just like the melt-in-your-mouth mousse cake and creamy lemony crepes.  Yum, I think I will make the crepes for dinner!

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