Duluth school district student kitchens serve up educationThe scene could have been from any fine-dining kitchen: sautéing of scallops, slicing gourmet bread, grilling bacon-wrapped sirloin and shouting about the transport of hot pans.
By: Jana Hollingsworth, Duluth News Tribune
The scene could have been from any fine-dining kitchen: sautéing of scallops, slicing gourmet bread, grilling bacon-wrapped sirloin and shouting about the transport of hot pans.
But it was at East High School, in the school’s Food for Thought kitchen, as culinary students prepped for the day’s lunch guests.
The student-run restaurant is part of the district’s culinary arts program, which was separated this year after Central High School closed. Formerly in the Secondary Technical Center on the Central campus with a dining room that offered one of the best views in the city, the program now is split between Denfeld and East.
Students and staff at both locations are adjusting to new spaces, new options and some challenges.
The new space and equipment at East are nice, said senior Stephanie Madson, but the operation is smaller and organized in a less-efficient way than it was at STC, making larger class sizes more difficult to work around. The prep kitchen is a few rooms away from the main kitchen and the dining room is in a classroom.
“I’d rather have the larger space with the larger eating area for customers, with the view,” said Madson, a veteran of the program who works after school at Restaurant 301 and plans to attend the Art Institutes in Minneapolis for a culinary degree. But she loves the classes: “Knowing the food people eat tastes good and makes them happy is a satisfying feeling,” she said.
East houses the restaurant with its classical cooking courses and the waiter/waitress program, and Denfeld houses the deli program, where students prepare lunch items to serve alongside the cafeteria food. Students at Denfeld who want to continue in the culinary arts can go on to classes at East; students can be bused to both sites.
The decision of where to locate those two programs was based partly on a desire to balance vocational programs between Denfeld and East, said Kerry Leider, property and risk manager for the Duluth schools.
The new equipment at East is helpful when students are learning to make sauces, said instructor and local chef Glenn D’Amour. They went from sharing one stove at STC to sharing five at East, which allows more students to practice at once.
At Denfeld, the students work in both a kitchen next to the cafeteria and in a lab kitchen. Enrollment in the deli program doubled when it moved to Denfeld, said instructor Michael Emerson of his 36 students, probably because the class is more visible. Many Central students were unaware of the deli, which was in a different building.
In the deli course, students learn knife skills and how to prepare fresh foods. While the restaurant offers the chance to train in classical cooking techniques, the deli prepares students to jump into fast-service operations. The deli offerings are healthy, Emerson said, with high-quality meats and cheese for sandwiches and wraps, fruit and yogurt parfaits, homemade soups and weekly specials such as pot roast.
“We’re offering a good alternative to kids leaving and going to fast-food restaurants,” Emerson said. “Our sales increased 150 percent this year by having the deli in the cafeteria.”
If the class is at full capacity, it splits up and bakes in the lab kitchen and makes soup and sandwiches in the main kitchen.
Freshman Lucious Griffin, deftly chopping romaine Wednesday morning at Denfeld, said he picked the class because “I like to have a team around me.”
That was echoed by students at both schools.
Longtime restaurant customers, like Woodland resident Mickey Ferguson, said they would follow it wherever it went.
“The kids are outstanding,” Ferguson said, as are the instructors and the food. “We would drive (across town) to Denfeld if we had to. The effort is worth it.”
Ginger Bronson joked that a panoramic photo of the harbor view from the old restaurant should be taken and tacked up in the new dining room. The space, lacking carpet, has a small noise issue that has driven some customers away, D’Amour said.
But diners enjoy the easy access and parking at East, and they were quick to rattle off favorite dishes, such as the steak sandwich, rack of pork, walleye and beef Wellington.
One diner, William Teske, eats at the restaurant weekly. The work of the students, said the former Hotel Duluth sous chef, is “beautiful.”