At Norwalk Community College, Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management students often prepare meals for college meetings and events. Now, they’re dishing them up for paying customers, too.
The department has launched a Café Dining “restaurant” that is open to the public from 11:30 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. Thursdays through May 16 in the Culinary Arts Dining Room (excluding May 9 during finals).
The program is designed to give students experience with all phases of running a restaurant or foodservice operation—from prepping and preparing entrees to serving as waiters and managers. Café Dining features a la carte ordering and sit-down service.
During a recent Café Dining luncheon, most of the 65 dining room seats were filled. In true bistro style, the menu was hand-written on a chalkboard, perched outside the dining room doors.
Student waiters took orders while student chefs cooked meals to order in the adjacent kitchen. Professor Jeff Trombetta, dressed in kitchen whites and a chef’s toque, was circling between the diners (“How’s your meal?”) and the students behind the scenes.
Trombetta described the menu as “fresh-quality, casual, sophisticated and modern.” Menu entrees range from $3-10; beverages are $1-2. Choices include steamed salmon with boiled potatoes, New England clam chowder, fried chicken on a baguette, goat cheese and fresh tomato pizza, penne primavera, beef tips with mushrooms and pepper stir-fry, and mixed green salads with protein add-on choices. Beverage options include espresso, cappuccino, Pellegrino, and juices.
Culinary major Jon Albrecht was in the kitchen manning the coffee station. While frothing milk for a cappuccino he said, “We’re taking a Service Management class and learning all the finite details about how to professionally serve (customers). We rotate throughout the jobs. I love the whole Culinary program in general. This is what I want to do!”
“One spinach salad, one pizza!” yelled the student in charge of announcing delegating food orders. “Let’s go!” As each order was announced, classmates cooked or put the finishing touches on their assigned item.
Student Elizabeth Louis was stirring a simmering pot of New England clam chowder. “It has to thicken a little more,” she said. “Doing Café Dining feels like we’re working in a real restaurant. I hope we get more customers.”
Classmate student Susan Murphy, who was composing spinach salads nearby, said, “Haven’t you SEEN the dining room? It’s packed!”
Murphy said she was learning a lot doing Café Dining. “I love this! We cook all the time, but for this we are actually preparing for people who are paying. This experience is more like working in a real restaurant.”
Reservations are not necessary. For information, contact cafediningNCC@gmail.com.