It’s 2:30 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon. Statler Hall is quiet, with only a few TAs in white lab coats shuffling around by the auditorium, preparing for Introduction to Wines. I’ve donned my chef whites and paper toque and headed to the kitchen to prepare for restaurant service of the student-managed restaurant, Establishment. As I turn the handle to the culinary lab, the familiar click welcoming me back, I hear the dishwasher’s music blasting from the speakers as he preps family meal, making sure that the students and faculty are fed during service. The music ranges from rap to Bon Jovi to international music, and each day is a surprise as I wash my hands, tie my apron around my waist and grab a side towel to keep handy.
I remember when I first learned about Establishment. My freshman year, I was so excited to be on campus and immerse myself in the Hotelie culture. At that point, Establishment was still held in Terrace — once the salad line had died down for the day and the students could move into the cramped kitchen to execute their specialty menus — and I went with one of my best friends to dine, hoping to learn what the class was all about. From then on, I looked forward to the opportunity to have my own management night and be able to let my passion for food and beverage shine.
Fast forward to the spring of my junior year, and Establishment had relocated to its current home on the second floor of Statler Hall, with a beautiful 16 table dining room overlooking campus with floor-to-ceiling windows. The students in this class work in groups of three to complete their management night, with two of the managers in the back of the house focusing on the food and one in the front of the house interacting with guests in the dining room. Students are given the freedom to pick any theme they like, with the only limitations being keeping the food cost low enough for the specials to align with the standard menu prices and acquiring specialty ingredients. Additionally, everything must be approved by the chef of your lab night. Whether or not the students have much food and beverage experience besides HADM 2360 — the introductory culinary class — under their belt, they must find or create their recipes, translating them into a standard format that all students will be able to follow and recreate in the kitchen during service.
Two of my close Hotelie friends and I planned and managed the first student-run night of that spring semester, creating a menu that was focused on chocolate, even in savory applications. Our features included a butternut squash soup with chipotle chocolate drizzle and cocoa crusted croutons; an entree of a pork chop with roasted carrots, mashed redskin potatoes, and chocolate red wine sauce and a tableside hot chocolate service to engage our guests. Even though we did have to comp a few dishes due to kitchen errors and consoled our student in charge of the tableside hot chocolate after he made 42 quenelles of whipped cream, the night was a success. I was so proud of my management night and knew I wanted to TA the class during my senior year at the Hotel School.
One year later, I have made that hope a reality, finally becoming a teaching assistant for the class during my last semester on the hill. Being on the TA side of the class is very different from what I experienced as a student; still, I enjoy not only the challenges and opportunities to learn in the kitchen, but also the ability to practice my leadership skills as well. While there are often stressful moments that involve picking up the pieces and struggling on during a busy service, I take pride in making each night the best it can be. I have grown close to many of the chefs through my work as a T.A. for the introductory culinary class at the hotel school, and working with them in Establishment brightens my week.
As the Hot Foods 1 T.A., I’m in charge of the students who work in the fry, grill and saute stations. This is arguably the hottest station in the kitchen, and it is usually busy with entree orders or preparations of management specials. The Hot Foods 2 T.A. manages the pasta entrees, hot appetizers and many specials in the station directly across from the Hot Foods 1 line. There’s the pizza station, pantry station for salads, and dessert station that are managed by the chefs and other staff, completing the kitchen. Our kitchen is configured much differently from a real restaurant kitchen, and we are capped at around 110 covers maximum each night, but students are able to get a feeling for a restaurant kitchen.
The kitchen becomes silent as service begins, with the students, TAs and chefs calling back the ticket orders as the expo receives them. I love watching it all come together, and I encourage the managers for the night to take ownership of their dishes and to make the food the best it can be. Even if the students are going into finance, real estate or consulting, I hope they take away positive memories of Establishment, the camaraderie of the kitchen and the class and a deeper understanding and appreciation of the work people in the food and beverage industry do every day. Because for me, food is love, and I hope I am able to share this love with the students that pass through the Establishment kitchen.