If you are traveling in the area of Thomas Road and 15th Avenue in the future around lunchtime, consider stopping at one of two locations that will give you a good meal for a great price—while you, in turn, get to help train a culinary student and potential future star chef.
Both Phoenix College and Metro Tech High School have cafés that are open to the public during the day, right around lunchtime. At one, you can enjoy a three-course gourmet meal; at the other, you can get a made-to-order fresh salad or sandwich. And at both, you’ll pay less than you would at a retail establishment.
Phoenix College’s Café Oso, located at the northeast corner of 11th Avenue and Flower, opened its newly designed digs on Aug. 23. Formerly the Culinary Café, Café Oso (Spanish for “Bear,” the school’s mascot) has been remodeled and features several new menu items.
Under the direction of Chef Joe Kalfus and Chef Anthony Redendo, students in the Phoenix College Culinary Studies Program craft three-course meals three days a week, while other students work as wait staff in the dining area under the watchful eye of Yves Leger, instructor of Food Service Administration.
“The menus are based on class competencies, as well as current trends in the culinary field, while balancing it with classical techniques, cost and availability of ingredients,” Kalfus says. He also was pleased to recently introduce more healthy, vegetarian, and gluten-free options, balanced with classical dishes.
Some of the entrees coming up in October include beef bourguignon, sautéed duck breast, seared scallops and herb-crusted prime rib. Vegetarian options will include zucchini a la romesco, stuffed grilled eggplant, chic pea and red cabbage pita pizza and capellini al pomodoro.
Dessert is a choice of New York-style cheesecake or a specially prepared treat for the day, such as a Linzer tort, bananas foster, apple strudel or tiramisu. The first course gives you the option of a tasty soup of the day, a house salad, and a third option such as a specialty salad, smoked salmon Napoleon, fried green tomatoes, or vegetable quiche.
They may sound like sophisticated dishes, but students say they are up the challenge. “The hardest thing is to be patient,” says student LeVon Pope-Whatley, whose goal is to eventually open his own restaurant. “We do a lot of cuisines that we may not be used to. You’ve got to respect the recipe and listen to the instructors, who are so confident—they instill that confidence into us, too.”
Each three-course meal always is just $10.25, not including tax or gratuity. And speaking of tips … diners should know that all gratuities will go toward program improvements—in other words, not the individual servers.
To view upcoming weekly menus online, visit www.phoenixcollege.edu and type in “Café Oso” in the search box.
If a full three-course meal is too heavy for you, the café offers an a la carte menu that includes soup of the day, entrée salads, sandwiches and a burger. All breads are made in house by the students and herbs for the house foccacia are grown in the café’s on-campus garden.
The café also offers catering services and there is an adjacent banquet room that seats around 80 and can be rented out for private events.
Café Oso is open 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; reservations are requested so the proper amount of food can be prepared, eliminating extra waste. The last seating is at 12:45 p.m. For more information on private events, or to make a reservation at Café Oso, call 602-285-7764.
The café will be closed Thanksgiving Day, and then for fall break beginning on Dec. 5.
Metro Tech Express Café
Over at nearby Metro Tech High School, students in the Culinary Arts program are preparing appetizing meals under the direction of instructors Tina Hahn and Dean Wilberscheid.
The school, located at 1900 W. Thomas Road, operates its Express Café from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. If you are worried about a noisy student atmosphere, fear not: the eatery is only open to students who are accompanied by an adult.
Unless, of course, they are making the food or serving it to you.
The Express Café offers a casual lunch experience featuring a salad bar, entrée salads, sandwiches, and desserts.
“We don’t compete with the cafeteria—this is different food, served in a different atmosphere,” explains Hahn. “It’s more about having a different option, especially for teachers, while providing a hands-on learning environment for students.”
The salads and sandwiches run $4.50-$6. “It’s restaurant-quality food, but we can offer it at a slightly reduced price,” Hahn says. “We don’t price anything to necessarily turn a profit; we have a small profit margin, but it all goes back into the program.”
For example, students in the program will create a special buffet for their families during an upcoming Parent Open House.
Another on-campus dining area, called The Sustainable Table, is open for special events and can be reserved for private parties during the school day, using the menu from the Express Café or creating a specialized menu. Some of the herbs, fruits and leafy greens used in the menu are grown right on campus, and any non-animal-based leftovers are recycled in the campus compost area.
“We open The Sustainable Table to the public on a fairly limited basis,” Hahn says. “It has to do with student enrollment. Currently enrollment is very good, so we anticipate having it open more frequently this school year.”
Many of the students in Metro Tech’s culinary program are interested in working in the food service and restaurant industry. Getting training while still in high school can give them a leg up on their peers when they enter their post-secondary culinary education, Hahn points out.
“You just can’t replicate that need for speed, that sense of urgency when you are actually feeding a real customer as opposed to simply making food for an exercise,” she explains. “We have real customers who are on a tight schedule. It’s terrific real-world experience for the students.”
For more information about reserving The Sustainable Table for your event, call the café during school hours at 602-764-8114, or leave a message after hours.