Columbia College culinary students will invite the public to “come and eat their homework” on Wednesday nights after the newly refurbished restaurant service laboratory and food production hall, the Cellar Bistro, reopens on the school’s campus.
“For us, it's not about the production or the capacity,” Dr. Klaus Tenbergen, dean of Career Technical Education and Economic Development, said. “It is about using the customers coming in from the community. They are going to be our real guests, and there will be real situations where the students can practice their skills.”
Any guest to the Cellar Bistro dinners, Tenbergen said, will be treated to a true restaurant experience. The interactions with the students will be genuine, and the food of high cuisine.
During their inaugural meal in the renovated Cellar Bistro, students will divide the dining room into three separate areas made up of about three roundtables each.
The timing of the meal service will be modified on a weekly basis, but most often the meals will start about 6 p.m., and guests are required to make reservations.
Two separate classes will test their skills at the weekly dinners: the Advanced Service class, which will take care of customers; and the Contemporary Cuisine class, which prepares the foods based on locally available products.
The Advanced Service class, taught by longterm instructor Tom Bender, educates students on a variety of classic service styles, from Russian to French to American.
Don Dickinson’s cuisine class will educate students on proper preparation skills, from slicing, spicing and hygiene to plating techniques.
During the Cellar’s renovations, which lasted two full semesters, students worked out of a temporary space in the First Presbyterian Church of the 49ers in Columbia. At the church, students prepared and served hot meals, from German pork belly, red cabbage and spaetzle to Cajun gumbo and catfish, to financially insecure and needy members of the community.
Funding for the Cellar’s renovations came from 2004 bond Measure E, which allowed for Columbia College to updated facilities throughout the campus.
What’s new about the updated Cellar Bistro, Tenbergen said, is “everything.”
“The space was completely stripped, and then everything was newly designed, including the layout,” he said.
The room in the lower level of the Manzanita Building now has at least four dedicated teaching spaces, which function as a standard classroom, a baking area, a cooking area and a cooking suite, which Tenbergen described as a “big island” where students learn how to expedite service in a dinner setting.
The different sections, Tenbergen continued, allow students to be taught “different skills at different times of their education career.”
With the knowledge of the different facets of food prep and service, students who complete the culinary program are more valued candidates for employment.
“The expectation of the industry is that they have well-prepared students ready to go into the workforce,” Tenbergen said.
Alternatively, the Career Technical Service program still maintains apprenticeship partnerships with the Evergreen and Rush Creek lodges and Black Oak Casino and Resort.
Both groups get the same lecture partners, Tenbergen said, but students in the apprenticeship program are offered on-the-job training as opposed to learning in a lab setting.