The best restaurant find of the week
May 13, 2012
With just 15 minutes to go until lunch is served, the large commercial kitchen crackles with energy. Chefs, sous-chefs and servers scurry here and there, some in aprons and others in traditional chef’s jackets. Mouthwatering aromas swirl through the room as salads, entrees and desserts are prepared and plated.
At last, the feast arrives. An Italian salad is the first course, featuring fresh greens, chopped dates and a scrumptious dressing. A basket of fragrant roasted-garlic bread sits next to chilled pats of butter. Next up is the entree – a brochette of grilled steak and mushrooms, a half-dozen buttery sauteed scallops and fragrant, vegetable-studded, perfectly cooked orzo. Everything is piping hot and perfectly cooked. The iced tea is strong, and the fresh blackberry dessert oozes nectar and pastry cream.
The servers are attentive but not overbearing. Courses are timed perfectly for a weekday lunch – in and out in an hour or less. The tab for this three-course feast? Six bucks – less than the cost of a burger-fries-Coke combo at a fast-food joint. And even at that bargain price, the restaurant still is making a profit of about a dollar per meal.
There are strings attached: You have to make reservations by the Friday before you want to go. You have to arrive a little earlier than the tradition noon lunch hour. There’s no valet parking, and you have to sign in at the front desk when you arrive.
Pay no attention to the rows and rows of lockers you’ll pass on the way in. Ignore the electronic bells and the PA announcements. Don’t mind the linoleum floor, and don’t expect linen tablecloths. This is the restaurant at Carson High School, after all.
The chefs and servers are students in Penny Reynolds’ award-winning, nationally recognized culinary arts program are serious about what they do. They dream up and test and write the recipes, plan the meals and figure out the per-plate profit. They shop, prep, cook, serve, wash up. As part of Reynolds’ curriculum, she requires each student to apply for no fewer than 40 scholarships. Many of them go to culinary school after graduation, and an impressive number of them receive at least some scholarship money.
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Reynolds’ roles include executive chef, mentor and job-placement specialist.
The CHS culinary kitchen is not a Gordon Ramsay reality show. There’s no shouted profanity in the kitchen, no tantrums over ruined risotto. The CHS kids – even the most mistake-prone beginners – are not berated into finding another profession.
By the time these students graduate from the program, they’ve got a head start on a career path.
And if there’s one thing employers want more of in Nevada, it’s educated workers. These kids fit the bill.
Running the restaurant at the high school teaches them professional skills: planning, scheduling, budgeting, communicating, learning from their mistakes. It teaches them creativity and accountability. And because the culinary program’s restaurant is open to the public (but not to other students), it teaches them about customer service.
Thursday’s diners were the members of the Carson Chamber of Commerce Leadership Class of 2012 – mostly mid-career businesspeople learning the ropes for civic service and, possibly for some, political office. The leadership class tends to attract the most motivated, focused members of the community – adjectives that also could be applied to the kids in Reynolds’ program.
The chamber’s director, Ronni Hanniman, likes to bring each season’s leadership class to the high school for lunch once, and there’s a natural affinity there: The students get to interact with potential role models, and the adults come away with full bellies and a good impression of tomorrow’s chefs and restaurateurs.
Who knows, maybe the banker will finance a young Carsonite’s restaurant start-up. Maybe one will make a referral that will launch a young chef’s career.
Some of the produce used in the program comes from the nearby Greenhouse Garden Center, a Carson City nonprofit that also furnishes fresh produce to local food banks for the needy.
Thursday’s Italian salad, for instance, featured purple basil from the Greenhouse.
Do yourself a favor and plan a group lunch at the CHS culinary restaurant once school starts up again in the fall. It’ll leave a good taste in your mouth.
And tip big. These kids deserve it.
• Editor Dennis Noone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.