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Dining Experience at MCCC Student Restaurant Starts at the Door
Patron says, 'We are in awe of everything that comes out of the kitchen!'


A student chef describes two delectable desserts, as wait staff members (foreground) take notes.

From left, Table Service students Agna Simon, Lucas Ferreira, Wyatt Rue, instructor Christina Crawford, and student Faith Rugarber.

James Dillard and his guests say there is no better place for fun and a fine meal than MCCC's Culinary Center.

MCCC student chefs create the magic with guidance from instructor Bill Beyer, pictured back row, third from right.

West Windsor, N.J. – It was almost time to open the doors in the Mercer County Community College (MCCC) Culinary Center as students prepared to serve their final dinner of the semester to a sold-out house on Dec. 3. Since October, two classes of students have been cooking up gourmet meals – one serving American Regional cuisine with Chef Bill Beyer and a second class preparing Italian-themed meals with Chef Frank Benowitz.

These weekly feasts are culinary students’ version of a major exam – graded not only by their professors, but also by the Culinary Center’s customers. Clearly lots of prep, caring and cooking with the best ingredients goes into each meal. What is less obvious to hungry customers is what goes on right before the doors open.

That’s the time when the chefs and the wait staff convene for a quick but important pre-dinner briefing. Each chef thoroughly explains his or her dishes. On Dec. 3, for example, Autumn squash risotto could be ordered with or without cheese and breadcrumbs; the salmon could be prepared either poached or pan roasted; the filet mignon is served with Béarnaise sauce, and one of the evening’s more interesting specials, Rabbit Loin wrapped in bacon and pastry, just might raise a few questions.

From appetizers to desserts, the servers take notes and are informed about allergens like nuts, dairy and gluten.

Then it’s show time. As the four student servers in instructor Chris Crawford’s Table Service class (HOS 186) put their game faces on, Crawford beamed. “I teach students the importance of good service. Reviews show that restaurant customers will give the kitchen a pass if the food is mediocre, but they do not easily forgive bad service,” she said. “I tell students you are the kitchen’s advocates. The dining experience starts at the door.”

Sure enough, when a patron asked what was in the “she-crab” soup, her waiter was ready to recite the ingredients. When asked how the salmon was prepared or whether the filet mignon was served with a sauce, they knew the answers to those questions too.

Hamilton resident James Lillard is a regular at Mercer’s student restaurant, buying blocks of tickets for as many as six meals each semester. “I bring guests with me. We have such fun,” he said. “We discuss the menus and the dishes. It’s an enjoyable place to eat.”

“The plates are so pretty that sometimes we don’t want to touch them,” added Vi Udy, one of Lillard’s happy guests.

Lillard was first introduced to the student restaurant when he was taking Information Technology classes at Mercer a decade ago. His teacher had an extra ticket and invited him, and Lillard has been a loyal customer ever since. He recalls bringing one guest who was a former restaurateur in New York City and she was very impressed.

“We are in awe of everything that comes out of the kitchen,” Udy said. “Their preparation and presentation is done with so much care.”

Indeed, regular patrons have come to expect a delicious soup to nuts lunch or dinner, artfully plated and often featuring haute cuisine dishes, with meals costing just $12. In addition to menu items noted above, the final meal included stuffed game hen, a salad of brie, grapes, olives and almonds, a second salad of avocado and grapefruit, and desserts including a chocolate mousse dome with hazelnut cream center and a strawberry-pistachio tart.

Mmm, mmm, good!

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