Restaurant News

Culinary Arts Students Deliver Tasty Fare at Great Prices at These College Eateries

Behind-the-scenes with the culinary arts program at Estrella Mountain Community College.
Behind-the-scenes with the culinary arts program at Estrella Mountain Community College. Estrella Mountain Community College
It probably feels like forever since you last made a lunch reservation, much less tried a new restaurant.

But soon you'll have two new dining options, as eateries run by community college culinary arts programs reopen for both full-service meals and grab-and-go fare on select days.

Both the Regions restaurant at Estrella Mountain Community College and The Artichoke Grill at Scottsdale Community College are getting ready to ramp back up after temporary closures during the pandemic. Both are hidden gems with rotating menus that offer traditional, vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options.
click to enlarge Steve Griffiths with culinary arts students at Estrella Mountain Community College. - ESTRELLA MOUNTAIN COMMUNITY COLLEGE
Steve Griffiths with culinary arts students at Estrella Mountain Community College.
Estrella Mountain Community College
The Artichoke Grill actually reopened last fall, then took an extended winter break. For Regions, the pandemic led to a longer pause in operations.

“It’s been a long road back,” says Steve Griffiths, who heads the culinary arts program at Estrella Mountain. “But many of us have been eating at restaurants and feeling more comfortable lately, so we’re trying to come along at that same speed.”

When Regions reopens in early February, students will be making and serving food inspired by various parts of the United States, such as the Pacific Northwest. For that region, menu items might include lobster bisque or oyster stew, a salad with poached pear and bleu cheese, duck or pork loin, and cheesecake or bread pudding.

The menus rotate weekly and typically include a soup or salad, main course, and dessert. After spring break, the focus will shift to French classical cuisine. “The curriculum drives our menu,” explains Griffiths. “Education comes first, and the restaurant runs alongside that as a tool for students to get hands-on experience.”

click to enlarge Culinary arts students at Estrella Mountain Community College. - ESTRELLA MOUNTAIN COMMUNITY COLLEGE
Culinary arts students at Estrella Mountain Community College.
Estrella Mountain Community College
The students range from high-schoolers to senior citizens, according to Griffiths. “About 20 to 30 percent are already working in the restaurant industry, whether that’s in a fast-food, resort, or assisted-living facility setting,” he says. When they graduate, they'll have a wide range of options, from starting their own food-based business to working in a casino restaurant.

“We’ve really seen the hospitality industry grow, especially in the last five years,” he adds. “Now, with labor shortages impacting so many restaurants, we see even more opportunities for culinary arts graduates.”

On Tuesdays, Regions will have grab-and-go options such as sandwiches and salads. On Thursdays, the eatery will offer full-service meals for just $12.95. Menus are posted online, and reservations are recommended, as space is limited and seating is not guaranteed.

“The restaurant gives culinary students cooking and front-of-house skills, so they’re very well-rounded when they graduate,” notes Griffiths. “They become jack-of-all trades, then specialize further, depending on where they’re working after they finish school.” The college offers an Associate in Applied Science degree in culinary arts, plus three culinary arts certificates that require from one to four semesters of coursework.

click to enlarge A burger and fries created by culinary arts students at The Artichoke Grill. - SCOTTSDALE COMMUNITY COLLEGE
A burger and fries created by culinary arts students at The Artichoke Grill.
Scottsdale Community College
The Artichoke Grill at Scottsdale Community College is scheduled to reopen in mid-February, offering grab-and-go items as well as table seating Tuesdays through Fridays from 11:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. “The menu items match our core competencies,” explains Mark Dow, who heads the culinary arts program for Scottsdale Community College. “When the students are studying smoking, for example, the restaurant might serve a smoked beef brisket with gluten-free mac and cheese.”

Over the course of several weeks, regular patrons can experience an eclectic mix of food items such as Hawaiian huli huli chicken, tortilla soup, buckwheat salad, cured lox on rye, tepary bean hummus, shrimp and grits, turkey burgers, quiche, and Yucatán-style tacos. Usually, about half the customers are staff at the Scottsdale campus and half are community members. “We draw a dynamic mix of diners,” says Dow.

Both eateries are taking COVID-related precautions, such as requiring that culinary arts students and diners wear masks. Students are rolling silverware into napkins rather than setting utensils directly on the table, and they’re serving bottled water rather than pouring water into customer glasses. You might see lowered seating capacity, as well. In Scottsdale, for example, only about eight tables will be open for service.

For diners who used to frequent Cafe Oso at Phoenix College, the news isn't so good. Although the college offers a certificate in commercial baking and pastry, the cafe has permanently closed.

For those who venture out, Dow says these college-based eateries provide a chance to try something different while supporting emerging chefs as they learn some of the finer points of working with restaurant clientele. And, adds Griffith, “You can get a good meal at a nice price."
KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Lynn Trimble is an award-winning freelance writer and photographer specializing in arts and culture, including visual and performing arts
Contact: Lynn Trimble