The Duluth East kitchen buzzed with student line cooks stirring pasta and plating fettucine Alfredo, veggies and Tuscan roast leg of lamb.

"Less pasta, we're going to run out," said chef and instructor Glenn D'Amour. He poured milk into a pan on the stovetop; a student soon took over.

At their on-campus restaurant, Food for Thought, D'Amour and Duluth high school students serve a hearty menu of duck breast and grilled salmon baja style Tuesday through Thursday during the school year.

Sophomore Rainah Gibbons and Chef Glenn D’Amour work side by side. Tyler Schank /
Sophomore Rainah Gibbons and Chef Glenn D’Amour work side by side. Tyler Schank /
D'Amour, 65, has taught culinary classes at East for 11 years, which was originally in the Secondary Technical Center on the Central High School campus. When he came on board, the menu was a couple of sandwiches, some salads and a prime rib once in a while, he said. And he wanted to raise the bar.

The class teaches front and back of the house, with the help of technical tutor Jill Tuura. East and Denfeld students earn their Servsafe certificate; they learn knife safety, how to chop vegetables, and mise en place ("everything in its place").

In classical line cooking, they learn how to saute scallops, prep beef, the five mother sauces.

Teachers at first thought his approach "pretty aggressive," but he's teaching college-level culinary arts, and the restaurant has built a great reputation.

They serve 40-60 people during opening hours and serve French crusted rack of pork and seafood stuffed Lake Superior trout.

Juliyana Lebsack, 17, has taken the class for two years. She has worked the broiler station, prepping salmon, New York strip steak, cheddar burgers. During a visit, Lebsack sliced fresh ciabatta bread, one of her favorite tasks. "The satisfaction of getting it done. Then, you see it, and you eat it, and, 'I made that.'"

"Cooking and getting my mind off of things really helped me out," said Rainah Gibbons, 15. "Whenever I had relationship problems, or friend or family problems ... chef would always crack jokes.

"He's been like a second father to me."

Gibbons said she did the bare minimum in D'Amour's class last semester. That's when he "put a fire under my ass," she said. He said leave everything at the door; when you get in that kitchen, you need to be ready to do what you have to do, she recalled. That helped her get back on track.

"I sometimes am irreverent with them," said D'Amour. "I'm also like a kid myself, and they can identify with me, and I do that on purpose."

Reaching students is why D'Amour started teaching.

He had a hard time as a teen, he didn't have much direction and he was in the drug crowd. He quit going to East after 10th grade and was looking for work. "At that point, nobody had told me I could do anything good," he said.

He found his calling during a cooking class at an alternative learning center in Duluth. He was encouraged to make specialty dishes, and his knack in the kitchen gained attention.

Chef Glenn D’Amour pours out steaming fettuccine noodles as guests arrive at Food For Thought. Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews
Chef Glenn D’Amour pours out steaming fettuccine noodles as guests arrive at Food For Thought. Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews
He eventually was hired at Grandma's Restaurant. ("I went into the interview with my hair down to my waist and a letter from my probation officer saying I was a pretty good kid," he said.)

While he was succeeding professionally, he was partying a lot and struggling in his personal life. That changed the day his son was born. "When I saw him, it was like a bolt of lightning hit me," he said.

He made a vow to "quit everything." He went into treatment, and hasn't had a drink or a drug since. The only "addiction" he has today are turtle pecan Blizzards.

Having the skills and the work ethic helped in his education, too.

Grandma's Restaurant sent him to New Orleans, Rome, Bologna, where he learned to make pasta and Crescia bread. They also sent him to the Culinary Institute of New York.

At school, D'Amour shares the opportunities he had, the opportunities students have, if they're trustworthy, work hard and apply themselves.

Running a student-led kitchen can be challenging. "It's like opening a new restaurant every semester, instead of professional cooks, I'm doing it with students," he said. He's also losing help, and there's teen apathy, he said. But he keeps a high standard because it's important that the teens leave and are able to get a job.

And D'Amour sees successes close to home.

Christopher Stetson is the head chef at the Kitchi Gammi Club. He was a student of D'Amour's for three and a half years. Stetson remembers meeting D'Amour standing next to a big bottle of olive oil at an expo when he was in eighth grade.

He referred to the kitchen at East as "organized chaos," and he said he uses tips from D'Amour's Beef Wellington recipe today. Stetson describes D'Amour as someone who sticks out in a room, always willing to show up and do good. If you're considering culinary school, Stetson said try D'Amour's class. "Show up to that everyday, and you'll learn."

Since he started teaching, D'Amour earned his bachelor's from Bemidji State University and an MBA from the College of St. Scholastica. He tells his students to pursue this "when your brains are fresh."

Recalling what he learned from far-off locations, D'Amour breaks into a free lesson about how to make true alfredo sauce - Parmesan and butter.

After class, students leave the kitchen to wind down in the classroom; some do cartwheels in the hallway. On the classroom shelves are books about vegetarian cooking, "From Julia Child's Kitchen," "The Duluth Grill Cookbook."

D'Amour launches into classical cooking, reviewing sauces.

It takes him a while to calm down after the rush dies down at Food for Thought. He tries to wipe a stain off his chef coat before heading into the restaurant to talk to customers. He takes his time, moving through the room.

Patrons greet him warmly, forks in hand.

Stetson said D'Amour is one of the best in the Northland: "His food is basically one of the hidden gems of Duluth."

What this chef eats

For decades, Duluth Chef Glenn D'Amour has specialized in crafting food for others. The News Tribune asked about what goes in his belly.

• Refrigerator staples: quality steak, saffron and broccoli

• Guilty pleasure: chocolate-covered peanuts

• Comfort food: Bolognese sauce over penne because it's rich, meaty and savory

If you go

What: Food for Thought

When: lunch Tuesday through Thursday until May 23

Where: Duluth East High School, 301 N. 40th Ave.

Prices: $9 to $17

The menu:

Call 24 hours ahead for a reservation: 218-336-8845, ext. 4055