Monroe County and Owens community colleges are giving students in their culinary arts and hospitality management programs a tough test - the test of public opinion.
At Monroe County, Chef Kevin Thomas and his second-year culinary arts students opened Cuisine 1300 to the public Monday, with a menu that includes curried squash soup and Cajun shrimp and sausage.
Cuisine 1300 will be open on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays through Dec. 13, with seatings at 11:30 a.m. and 11:45 a.m., with the exception of the following dates, when it will be closed: Nov. 15, 16, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, and 26.
Reservations are required and can be made by calling 734-384-4272 between the hours of 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Owens has opened its Terrace View Caf, where the students train, to the public for lunch Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Seating is available until 12:15 p.m.
For the students, it's an opportunity to learn in an environment that more closely resembles the real world. For the public, the benefit is the food, which is prepared under close supervision and with an eye toward healthiness.
The fare also tastes very good.
Tuesdays, the theme is regional American cuisine. Thursdays, the emphasis is international, with French, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, and Central European dishes. Until last week, the caf was open only to Owens faculty.
At Owens, the students are only allowed into the kitchen after six weeks of classroom work, explained Amanda Noascono, kitchen manager and instructor of dining room operations.
"This is a three-course meal open to the public," she said. "It's gourmet food for $6.95."
The culinary arts students who prepare the food learn more than just cooking, said Gretchen Fayerweather, chief instructor.
"It's important that they learn how a particular cuisine is affected by culture and religion," she explained.
"For instance, the Russian Orthodox Church has almost 250 fast days. This affects the food. A lot of Spanish food is one-pot meals. This stems from the country's early history when a lot of people were shepherds. In mountainous regions, people eat more goat, while in the valleys, where pastures are more fertile, there's more cattle."
"We've learned a lot about the different countries," said Maisam Shaheen, a 24-year-old student, as she chopped peanuts in the kitchen. "That's one of the best parts of the training."
At lunch last Thursday, the menu was egg drop soup, kung pao pork, and date wontons with ice cream. The main course was spicy but didn't deliver the sodium kick to the taste buds dishes at most Chinese restaurants do.
That's because meal preparation emphasizes health as much as taste, according to Tekla Madaras, who chairs the food, nutrition, and hospitality school of health sciences.
In practice, this means low sodium and fat content and modest portions, said Ms. Madaras, a registered dietician. The date wontons were deep-fried, but in canola oil.
Chef Bill Powell, the head teacher, said the courses were designed with the American Culinary Federation in mind. The two-year-old Owens program will eventually apply to this group for accreditation.
For additional information or to make reservations, visit the caf's Web site at www.owens.edu/terrace.
Contact Carl Ryan at email@example.com, or 419-206-0356.