By Rachel Garcia
A few years ago City College didn’t have the diverse eateries it has today. The students had two choices– hot dogs or hamburgers. Although good choices, it wasn’t very representative of the many ethnicities attending City College.
Culinary Arts Management Instructor and Latin Quarter Supervisor Vincent Paratore converted the cafeteria’s snack bar into an Asian/Pacific noodle bar when he started working for City College two years ago.
This year the Noodle Bar has been replaced by the Latin Quarter in Smith Hall, across from the bookstore and next to the cafeteria. It’s run by students enrolled in a four semester culinary arts and hospitality program that gives them real world experience in the restaurant industry.
The food is made to order. The chefs have tickets to cook from, just as they would in real restaurants. The cafeteria conversion to a mock-restaurant was done in only a week and a half, thanks to Paratore, the support of his department chair and the Executive Chef Keith Hammer.
Last years cultural theme was Asian/Pacific, and this year Paratore changed it to Latin. He wants his students to be up with the food trends to put them ahead of the competition. Asian and Latin genres are both currently trending foods.
Paratore’s bosses were nervous about the change in menu, since the Asian/Pacific noodle bar had been doing so well.
“This is a lab, it’s a classroom,” said Paratore. It’s not a restaurant interested in profiting,” he added.
The dining experience
As you walk into the eatery Latin music fills your ears, festive lights and sombreros surround you, and a very friendly staff bustles around in a clean and organized environment. The staff works energetically, working hands-on in a field they’re passionate about and receive school credit for. This isn’t to say that their job is an easy one, however.
“My job is to scare them into the idea that they’re in the most competitive market in this city,” said Paratore, “they’ve got to bring their A game,”
He has been in the restaurant industry in San Francisco for the past 20 years before instructing at City College.
“Students switch jobs and do everything from front end to managing, cooking and marketing, as well as learning the Point of Sale system & dealing with a changing concept,” he added. It’s a 16 week program split in half between working at the taqueria and the full service dining room next door.
“I like the program,” said Mike Dots, culinary arts student, who makes fresh horchata and agua fresca daily. “They give you a lot of room to move. For once you get to catch all the aspects of the restaurant industry.”
Over the summer the students also travel for culinary training. Jane Tucker, a student manager for a week, described her trip to Oaxaca, Mexico. The students worked with five local chefs using prepared menus and many of the eatery’s specials are inspired by what the students learned in Oaxaca.
“The students never cease to impress all of us, these guys are in it…by third semester they’re committed and it shows,” Paratore said.
The prices are low (sides cost $1 and only a couple items on the menu exceed $5), the food is versatile and fresh and this is all being done by community college students new to the field. Paratore is a huge fan of the program and says he will “defy anyone who says anywhere else does this.”