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SCCC’s culinary arts program prepares students for the real-world pressures of preparing and serving in restaurants
By Erin Pihlaja
“D O NOT USE THE WORD ‘JUST’ when describing a dish—own it, be proud of it,” says Jay Larkin to a crowd of men and women, some in crisp white shirts under black vests, bistro aprons and neckties; others in white chef’s uniforms complete with the traditional floppy white toque balanced setting falls on their shoulders. atop their heads. He offers them a few “This is a classroom like no other,” additional pieces of advice, and in secsays Larkin, a professor. “I tell the stuonds they have dispersed, in a swirling dents to make decisions, even if it’s the sea of well-choreographed activity. wrong one. It’s baptism by fire.” This In the kitchen, oysters are being particular service was a part of “demo shucked, sauces stirred, and the perweek,” where a limited number of peocussive beats of sharpened knives on ple are invited to experience the first cutting boards keep a regular, and urgent, tempo. “Ten minutes,” someone calls out to the rest of the busy team. A few faces glance up at a clock on the wall, but most remain focused at their stations. The front of the house is bustling. Silverware is placed in specific formations, checked, and rechecked. Servers straighten their uniforms and open their books to take inventory of empty checks and pens. Less than a half an hour later, all tasks have been completed and things are relatively still, but the energy is a nervous one. The air is practically buzzing with anticipation, though there is little else to do but wait. The dining room is ready for service. The black-andwhite linens are carefully pressed to lie neatly over the table tops, and plushly upholstered chairs wait to seat the lunch crowd. The rich, gray walls contrast elegantly against the crisp white trim and window dressings. Several art pieces from the Oakroom Artists association line the walls, completing Practice makes perfect: Culinary students at SCCC prepare a meal for guests of the Casola Dining Room.
the classic and refined feel of the room. The decadent smells from the adjacent kitchen greet patrons as they file into the space. They are ushered to their tables, and the voice of one guest can be heard over the jazz music playing softly in the background: “Wow. I can’t believe we’re in a college.” This is the Casola Dining Room, part of the student-run restaurant at Schenectady County Community College (SCCC). The servers, the host, the chefs—everyone here is enrolled in the School of Hotel, Culinary Arts and Tourism (HCAT), and while they are under the supervision of their professors, the pressure of executing a threecourse meal served in a fine-dining
time that the students cook and serve food in the restaurant. “They felt good,” says professor Thomas Alicandro, when the service has finished. “The feedback I got was that this was the best opening we’ve ever had.” In two weeks, the school will start taking reservations from the public and will seat approximately 50 people per meal. The spots go quickly and the menu changes weekly. “This can’t be an ivory tower,” says Alicandro. “We’ve got to make them feel the pressure.” Alicandro has more than 30 years of food-service experience, during some of which he was the executive chef at La Serre in Albany. Like Alicandro, all of the teaching staff here has experience in the “real world.” They come from varied backgrounds but all share one thing: a passion for the industry. SCCC’S CULINARY ARTS PROGRAM is accredited by the American Culinary Federation Education Foundation (ACFEF), an industry standard synony-
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