DULUTH — The Duluth East kitchen buzzed with student line cooks stirring pasta and plating fettuccine 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.

D’Amour, 65, has taught culinary classes at East for 11 years. When he came on board, the menu was a couple of sandwiches, some salads and a prime rib once in a while, he said. 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 and make the five mother sauces.

Teachers at first thought his approach “pretty aggressive,” but D’Amour’s teaching college-level culinary arts, and the restaurant has built a great reputation.

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

Students craft and plate dishes for patrons at Food For Thought restaurant at Duluth East High School on March 28. Tyler Schank / Forum News Service
Students craft and plate dishes for patrons at Food For Thought restaurant at Duluth East High School on March 28. Tyler Schank / Forum News Service

Juliyana Lebsack, 17, has taken the class for two years. She has worked the broiler station, prepping salmon, New York strip steak and 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.”

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 dropped out 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.

He eventually was hired at Grandma’s Restaurant.

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 and 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.

Sophomore Rainah Gibbons and Chef Glenn D’Amour work side by side to prepare a Tuscan roast leg of lamb before it is served at Food For Thought restaurant at Duluth East High School on March 28. Tyler Schank / Forum News Service
Sophomore Rainah Gibbons and Chef Glenn D’Amour work side by side to prepare a Tuscan roast leg of lamb before it is served at Food For Thought restaurant at Duluth East High School on March 28. Tyler Schank / Forum News Service

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.

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.

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.