I’d rather eat homework than words: a shoutout to the culinary arts and a little Brian Williams rant

Today is all about taste – good and bad. First, the bad.

That would be Brian Williams. It wasn’t enough for Brian to be a tall, handsome, white, rich and hugely successful anchorman at NBC News. He had to lie about being in a helicopter that was shot down in Iraq so he could also appear to be … I don’t know. I got nothing. Well, that’s not completely true.

As a former reporter, I am disgusted. I never made it to the big leagues. It’s not that I wasn’t good enough (I might not have been, but that’s not the why of this discussion). It’s that I started late. I was in my 30s when I got my first full-time job at a small-town daily newspaper. The pay was terrible. As a single mother of three young daughters, I qualified for $126 a month in food stamps. I worked my butt off. I hated the pay, but oh, I loved the work.

A year or so in, my editor sent me and another reporter to a local school to talk to students about what we did as part of a career day event. A third-grader asked me if I’d ever lied in a story.

“I’m too lazy,” I told him. “It’s a lot of work. You have to remember who you told what to and when. Also, I have to look at myself in the mirror in the morning.”

Then I got serious and talked about how important it was to report whatever it is you’re covering in a way that lets a reader draw his or her own conclusions, to describe whatever it is you’re describing while also staying out of the reader’s way. Telling the truth, I told him, is the most important thing a reporter does.

So, shame on Brian Williams, who has made it harder for all the hardworking journalists out there who practice their craft with ruthless integrity. All the money in the world will not buy his reputation back, and his stink taints the rest of us.

<not>Thanks, Brian</not>.

Okay, enough about that man. Because I wanted to have a standard of living and because I started late, I no longer commit acts of journalism on a regular basis. Which brings us to things good and tasteful, or at least tasty.

One of the perks of my current job at a large Midwestern technical college is proximity to the best-tasting homework in the universe. Our associate degree, technical diploma and certificate programs include culinary arts and baking and pastry arts degrees. That means we have a student-run bakery and café, pop-up restaurant and a student-run section of the main food court. There is also a fine-dining restaurant called Cuisine.

The front and back of the house are separate classrooms, and the students are responsible for all the functions that occur there. So the maître d’, servers, buspeople, hosts and managers are all culinary students. Every week they switch off different roles. At mid-semester, the course ends and they switch with the students who worked in the back of the house. There, they rotate through all the roles one would find in the kitchen of a fine-dining restaurant while the former kitchen staff becomes the dining room crew. Chefs need to know what goes on in a dining room. And potential chef-owners get a sense of what they’re thinking about signing up for in a low-stakes setting.

I’ll be honest. The service is kind of slow. Which is not a surprise. After all, the students are not training to be servers, they’re training to be chefs. The food makes up for it, and then some. Also, the service is extremely friendly and the prices are ridiculously cheap for what you get.

This past Tuesday, my friend (and colleague) Rick and I and lucked into lunch on the house. If we’d paid, the meal would have cost us $17 each before tax and tip. The restaurant moved into a brand-new space two years ago. It’s spacious, decorated in warm neutral tones. Walk in and you don’t feel like you’re at work anymore. Two large monitors are mounted on the walls. No matter where you’re seated, you can watch the kitchen action. Great food and reality TV. I have had worse days at work!

Rick ordered this: “Jeff Leen Chicken, pan-seared breast and boneless leg with tomato-basil mousseline forcemeat, cauliflower risotto, baby broccoli with red onion, and yellow pepper and romesco sauce.”

Rick’s main course. He ordered the chicken. It was yummy. I had a bite.

I ordered this: “Grilled Hanger Steak, pommes frites, baby broccoli with red onion and yellow pepper and truffle Madeira sauce.”

My hanger steak. With my gluten issues, I have to be careful, and this is an entree I know is safe. They’re careful too, and very good about accommodating food allergies. (I’m looking forward to ordering the fish with g/f mushroom risotto, which will come along later in the semester.)

We had salads, too. I had this one: “Mixed Greens, apples, dried cranberries, almonds and goat cheese with a basil-chive vinaigrette.”

This salad was perfect. The flavor balance was just right, it wasn’t overdressed and the presentation….well, I guess I don’t have to say anything about the presentation. I want another one right now!

Rick ordered this: “Spinach Salad, mango, red peppers, scallions and toasted sesame seeds with a curry emulsion dressing.”

Spinach_Mango_Salad and some spreads
I had flirted with ordering the mango salad, but was glad I’d chosen the apple (recommended by my server) instead. This one needs some tweaking – I thought there were too many strong flavors competing for attention. But it was really beautiful to look at – like a summer garden on a plate. The butter (small round dish) was basil, I think, and there was a cream cheese and sun-dried tomato spread (larger round dish) that I would have ordered for dessert if I thought I could have gotten away with it. The kidney-shaped dish had an amuse bouche, which wasn’t g/f. I don’t remember what it was, but Rick said it was yummy.

We didn’t order wine, because we were going back to work. But we could have, because the restaurant has a license to serve a single glass to any customer who is of proper age and orders one. The school applied for the liquor license because students need to know about food and wine pairings. We also didn’t order dessert, which looked great. But time was running short and we both like to make sure we are giving the taxpayers of Wisconsin their money’s worth.

3 thoughts on “I’d rather eat homework than words: a shoutout to the culinary arts and a little Brian Williams rant

  1. Thanks for not mentioning that I was only 30 minutes late. How is it that , invariably, or, inevitably, students need their lives rearranged, require counseling and sage advice the VERY moment I’m walking out the door for lunch!!!


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