- Associated Press - Sunday, September 7, 2014

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - On Aug. 29, Culinary Arts Program Director Thomas Grant and a handful of dedicated students worked hard to repaint the kitchen at the Carver Cafe.

They wanted to make sure it would be ready when they reopen to the public later this month.

But this lunch destination won’t stay open for long. In fact, it will only be open on Wednesdays for just a couple short hours.

That’s what makes eating at the cafe, located in the Carver Career and Technical Center, such a treat. Those who know about the eatery consider it to be one of Charleston’s hidden gems - a place where they can buy quality, affordable lunches created by students.

Grant said the cafe provides students and first-year apprentices an opportunity to work together and gain valuable hands-on experience by whipping up lunch entrees like vegetable bisque soup and red pepper roasted chowder with an herb risotto cake.

“It gives them an opportunity to work with customers and work as a team. I realize they all work at restaurants, but we want them to have the same feel of working together as a team,” he said. “It gives them that pressure - that production sense.”

As part of the American Culinary Federation apprenticeship program, students must work under a qualified chef in the area while attending school part-time.

During the two-year program, they will log 4,000 hours at an area restaurant and must make 50 percent of their food from scratch. In the end they must take a test to earn a certified culinarian certificate or certified sous chef certificate.

The cafe is a place where students can learn valuable team leadership and customer service skills while helping log those hours.

Grant said the meals served at the cafe are focused around what the students learn in their lessons earlier in the week. This means the menu is ever-changing, which adds to the appeal of the cafe.

Students always try to have some kind of starter, like a fresh tomato, basil and mozzarella salad or made-from-scratch potato chips to accompany the main course.

Grant said they usually try to have a dessert with every meal, too, like a bittersweet chocolate brownie with an orange creme.

Chef Mandy Gum, Carver’s post-secondary adult culinary instructor, said the cafe opened consistently about three years ago.

She said it was something that went on when she was a student there herself, but it was on a smaller scale and wasn’t always a priority.

When she got a job after completing her degree, she decided it was something she wanted to incorporate into the students’ education.

Students in the program arrive Mondays knowing in advance what lesson they will learn that day, gather their equipment and sometimes watch Gum perform a demo.

On Wednesdays they will arrive, put together a meal in two hours and serve it to the public.

The food goes quick.

Gum said they usually try to stay away from things that could be considered too upscale or gourmet, so customers aren’t afraid to try it.

“Typically it is something they know with a twist,” she said. “We want to stay in the realm of familiar stuff.”

For example, in the past the cafe has served breakfast for lunch. Gum said students made a breakfast sandwich with waffles instead of bread and pan-fried chicken breast with a maple mustard sauce as a different spin on chicken and waffles.

She said the students help make the Carver Cafe a unique place, as they help contribute ideas for the weekly lunch menu.

“I always make sure they have an input somewhere on the menu,” she said. “I always try to tell them ‘This is what we should be working around, what do you want to make?’”

The Carver Cafe will be open to the public starting from 10:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 24, and will be open every Wednesday until late November when they will close down to prepare for the rush of catering orders for the holiday season.

Gum said the menu for Sept. 24 will consist of pan-fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, sauteed vegetables and deep-fried mini apple pies.

The food is not only tasty but very reasonably priced, costing less than $8 a plate.

Grant said it is a great experience for both students and the customers.

“It’s a great program and we are very fortunate to work with all the chefs in the area,” he said.


Information from: Charleston Daily Mail, https://www.charlestondailymail.com

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