Friday, March 18, 2011

Eat cheap, support culinary students

Posted By on Fri, Mar 18, 2011 at 5:40 PM

If you haven't visited one, you've probably at least heard of culinary student-run restaurants at schools like the Culinary Institute of America .

The GPA Dining Room rotates its linen colors. We caught them on pink day — a little early for Easter with lavender and baby blue napkins.
  • Matthew Schniper
  • The GPA Dining Room rotates its linen colors. We caught them on pink day — a little early for Easter with lavender and baby blue napkins.
Generally, gourmet meals at these places cost a bit less than what you'd pay at a fine-dining restaurant for the same caliber food. The whole rookie-on-the-line training factor is what scores you the deal. The students learn, you eat well and save money: win-win.

What you perhaps have not heard of — just as I hadn't until recently — is Pueblo Community College's Great Personal Attention Dining Room, located in the college's student center at 900 W. Orman Ave. (719/549-3326).

Open Tuesdays through Fridays from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., the outfit offers meals prepared and served by the college's students (who are guided and overseen by the college culinary arts faculty).

The menu (viewable online) changes every two weeks, featuring around seven or so items plus a daily, international special. Prices average about $6 for full entrées, including deals like a 7-ounce steak for only $7.25 that was available when we visited a couple weeks ago.

The students, as expected, make all the sauces and stocks from scratch; bake their breads and pastries and brine and cut their meats, learning all the steps of real cooking (versus opening cans and simply warming up processed foods — the bane of too many restaurants out there.)

Culinary instructor Tom Rose told us that the two-year program — now 27 years old and the first in the state to receive American Culinary Federation certification — basically follows National Restaurant Association curriculum.

Co-instructor Ben Bedard, the former Rio Bistro chef, says that the program's kitchens will see a major renovation and upgrade beginning in August, as part of a $9 million overhaul of the entire student center in which the restaurant is located.

As for the food, Bryce Crawford and I sampled a couple of plates before we met and spoke to the culinary students (about how we approach food reviews, etc.) and took a tour of some staple Pueblo eateries with Bedard.

(You'll be seeing some of the fruits of our tour in coming weeks via our InSider Guide.)

I ate a perfectly serviceable Cuban sandwich that reminded me a lot of a mufaletta, minus the olive tapanade element. Served with a soup du jour and side of fruit salad (again, for only around $6), it was a fulfilling meal all things considered.

Bryce took down some very crabby crab cakes (as in lots of meat versus breading filler —not that they were grumpy) next to a veggie medley that was a little overcooked and definitely in need of a salt and pepper pinch or two.

The food was good but not show-stopping, service was a little overattentive and basics could be improved: our silverware needed a polish, the menu had misspellings and our tablecloth had a noticeable stain when we first sat down.

But the fact that there were things on which to improve and mistakes from which to learn is the whole point. That's what the students — who rotate from the line to floor service and all arenas of the restaurant — are there to learn.

Knowing full-well going into the restaurant that you are in essence helping train culinary students (by giving them a real public with which to interact), these aforementioned faults are pretty negligible considering you're getting a decent meal for a great price.

Look for special dinners that are advertised on their website as well, like a recent, traditional Irish dinner held in conjunction with St. Patrick's Day.

Oh ... and desserts in the GPA Dining Room are only $1.

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