Owens Community College Culinary students Rachel Gelacek and Martha Everhart were presented with the learning experience of a lifetime this past August: starting a restaurant.
Gelacek and Everhart were hired as interns at Vino100, a local wine bar. Owners George Burk and Diana Whitman wanted to add a restaurant to their wine bar and enlisted the help of the Owens culinary arts students.
According to Everhart, this is not a typical internship: most culinary students work in an established kitchen with an executive chef. However they were given an extreme challenge and extraordinary opportunity of creating a menu, setting up a kitchen and cooking all the dishes.
The internship began in August, when the students met with a restaurant consultant. The plan was to develop a menu that was not only delicious, but paired well with the wine.
“We had a small kitchen space, and we needed to make sure all our menu items worked well in the space allotted. We decided to create a tapas menu, with appetizer size portions served on small plates.”
Everhart credits her menu development course when it came to creating a menu for Vino100. She felt very prepared and confident, and along with Gelacek, created a menu of red snapper, bruschetta, salmon, beef tenderloin kabobs, a variety of flatbreads and much more.
The menu features several specials and rotating menu items each night, which allows them to cook with all fresh ingredients and make everything from scratch. Seasonal salads and a variety of cheeses are also served on a rotational basis.
The preparations for the restaurant took three months, and the opening was held in November. Over the course of preparations, Gelacek and Everhart learned a lot about each other and discovered a great deal about cooking in a restaurant.
Both agree that the internship is a constant learning experience and they are able to put the practical knowledge they learned in lab into a real working environment. Working in a restaurant presents daily challenges and opportunities that are impossible to experience in the classroom.
“One of the best things about working together is that we have the same training and work methods, which makes our work in the kitchen more cohesive and efficient,” said Everhart.
Everhart admits that inventory control has been one of their biggest challenges. “It took awhile to determine a balance, so we have enough food to serve customers but aren't throwing it away at the end of the night,” she said.
She explained that new challenges come up every day, and culinary professionals learn to dive in head first, and not to be afraid of any situation such as cooking new dishes or experimenting with new foods.
The internship at Vino100 has been a fantastic learning experience for both students and will give them an edge in the culinary field when they graduate.
“I couldn't ask for a better experience. This internship puts me at a step above others in the culinary field: I learned so much, and it was all hands-on knowledge I wouldn't learn in school,” said Gelacek.
Internships are typically completed in the one of the last semesters of school, and students must work 320 hours. They keep journals and participate in online discussion boards so they can learn from each other's experiences.
For more information on Owens Culinary Arts program, visit www.owens.edu.