Students operate LLCC’s Bistro Verde Restaurant

The Lamp Online Staff

Bistro Verde Restaurant
Photos courtesy Jordan Minder/Lamp
By Brennan Stidham, Staff Writer
“For years the culinary program was over in the basement, where Subway is. It didn’t really provide a nice learning environment.”
That is Nancy Sweet, the operations manager for Lincoln Land Community College’s culinary center, discussing the culinary program and the school’s new student-run restaurant, Bistro Verde. “We have seen growth since we moved to this facility. This facility is fabulous and rivals any culinary school,” Sweet said. Bistro Verde, located in the Workforce Career Center, serves lunch from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Sweet oversees the credit portion of our Culinary Arts, and the labs in terms of what’s going on in them, who’s renting them for space, are they clean? Are things working? Is the product here? Is the staff able to cover all the things that we’re doing in these labs? All those types of good things. There’s much more to Culinary Arts than just cooking. “It involves a variety of different paths you can take,” Sweet says. “One of which is hospitality management. Hospitality management focuses more on, say, the front of house operations … that means dealing directly with the customers. You’re the person sort of on stage, so maybe the general manager of a restaurant or a hotel dealing with the operations side of things, guest satisfaction, hospitality plans. We offer the hospitality management associates degree.”

Sweet discusses the history of the program. “We started the hospitality program 18 years ago, it was more focused on lodging, like hotels. As times changed, the culinary started to grow more and more. “We offer a Culinary Arts associates degree. Culinary Arts focuses more on the back of the house — the kitchen side of things. So if someone is looking to be the executive chef, they’re looking to actually run a kitchen. Culinary Arts is what you’d probably pursue. “A certificate program takes about a year, if you’re a full-time student and associates degree takes two years. The difference being that the associate degree has general education, political science, math, some of those other things. It also has a few higher level courses specific to your program.” Before the new bistro and kitchens, the culinary program did not include 400 level classes.

“The certificate programs is more of a get-right-to-work sort of thing. You take the core classes that you need, then you get yourself right out to work. We have a certificate program in Culinary Arts, and we also have a certificate program in baking and pastry.”   With the certificate in baking and pastry, a student can pursue work creating baked goods. “However, should you think ‘Well, I’d like to expand my education, take those general education classes. Plus, take those few higher level classes that include running a restaurant, you want to stay here for those,” Sweet said. However, not everyone who has an interest in culinary needs to apply for the classes. For some people meeting once a week and standing on one’s feet in their culinary labs for five hours at a time is too much. There’s a solution for that. “We have a wide variety of community learning classes, which are non-credit classes that are open to the public. They’re perfect for someone who wants to get involved out here, but they’re not looking to be involved for 16 weeks and not looking for a big old grade associated with what they do. “We see a lot of students come in who know they want to be in this industry, but they’re not quite sure what path they want to take, which is completely okay. … No matter what path you choose inside our programs, your first semester is fairly similar no matter what you’re taking. You’re going to be taking a sanitation class, so you understand the proper way to handle foods, the proper way to store foods, the different kinds of food borne illnesses that are out there. You’re going to take a culinary essentials class, where you learn the basics of how to handle yourself in the labs, what things are called, where they’re located, how the different machines work, how to set up your station, how to set up the dish machine. (Those are) some of those basics, so that when you get into those true, full-semester lab classes you don’t feel like a fish out of water. The basic classes will also include some history of the industry. “Everyone for the first semester takes a food production one class and a baking class,” Sweet says. “Everyone takes a restaurant management class. There are a few basic classes that everyone’s going to take, and then once you figure out what path speaks to you the most. By the third or fourth semester, you start narrowing down the path.”

Ever since the program has moved to the Workforce Career Center, the Culinary Arts program has grown. “Right now, we have 80 students in culinary, both part time and full time,” Sweet said. “We have a really wide cross-section of folks. You might see someone right out of high school, or maybe someone who worked in a factory for 20 years and was laid off and said, ‘You know what, I’ve always wanted to do this for a living, and now’s the time.’ We see a good variety of ages, races, male to female. It’s a good mix of folks here.” “Once students are done here, there are a variety of paths that you can take with your career. It’s not just going to go work at a restaurant, standing in the kitchen or waiting tables. The industry continues to grow, the food service industry is one of the largest employers, and it’s one of the largest growing employers. There is the standard restaurant scene, but the scope goes well beyond that. You can be a prep cook, a line cook, a sous chef, executive chef. You could be a server, a bartender. “I try to stay in constant communication with people in this area, and even further, in terms of what positions do you have open for people in this industry. Whether it be independent restaurant owners, hotel managers, assisted living places, we stay in contact with them for jobs. The jobs might be for folks who are in school now and want to work in the industry, people who need to complete their internship, or people who graduated and are looking to move on. It can be tough to stay in touch once they graduate to find out where their path goes. I maintain a job board in the hallway. We have a Facebook page available to the public for little fun things we have going on here,” said Sweet. Their Facebook page is called Lincoln Land Community College Culinary Institute.

Sweet said the culinary/hospitality industry as one that will continue to expand. “People’s lives continue to get busier and busier,” Sweet said. “People’s free time continues to get smaller and smaller. The convenience of going out to eat: it’s nice, it’s convenient, quick easy. Plus, if you want to get something more than fast food, it’s a form of entertainment. ‘What do you want to do on a Friday night? Let’s go out to dinner.’”
Brennan Stidham can be reached at [email protected] or 217-786-2311.
This was published in the April 9 edition of The Lamp.