Cooking students make the dining room chic; Manchester Community College program offers gourmet meals | Food and drink


MANCHESTER – Gourmet meals – think cider-braised pork loin with apple glaze or chicken breast with roasted garlic clove butter sauce – are a given at Manchester Community College, thanks to its program of hospitality and culinary arts.

The college has resumed its monthly lunch and gourmet meals open to the public, with the next buffet dinner scheduled for Wednesday, November 10, and the next lunch on Thursday, November 11, each priced at $ 15.

Ricardo Aragon, professor and co-chair of the Hospitality and Culinary Arts department, said he has been teaching the program at Manchester Community College for 10 years and the dinners have lasted at least as long as he has been there.

“We’ve been doing this for quite some time,” he said.

“It has been open to the public for years. They come to campus, buy a ticket, and enjoy the meal the students prepare. It’s a three or four course meal, ”said Aragon.

Due to the pandemic, “last year we did it just for friends and family,” he said.

The harvest buffet dinner that will be served on Wednesday will include, in addition to the pork loin and line chicken, a salad made with wild rice with raisins and feta served with curried butternut squash, cauliflower, eggplant with citrus and chickpeas.

Accompaniments will be roasted acorn squash with brown sugar and pan-seared and braised cabbage. The desserts will be a pumpkin and saffron flan and cream puffs filled with hazelnut cream.

The Thursday lunch menu is: Cheddar broccoli soup, roasted beetroot and gorgonzola salad, Bordeaux pan-seared semi-boneless chicken breast served with sweet potato polenta pancakes, and, for dessert, a chocolate cake.

Aragon said the goal of the program is to equip students with the practical skills needed to work in the culinary workplace.

“There are several programs under our umbrella,” he said. “The main program is the culinary arts diploma program. “

He said the program also offers food service management and hotel management.

“Meals are based on the three main production classes, which are international foods, advanced food preparation and buffet catering,” he said. “These courses are designed to provide a comprehensive experience for students and our clients. It’s a 6.5 hour class and the students would come and treat it like a restaurant. Students can plan the menu and they can execute it.

COVID has made things a little more difficult in the kitchen for teachers and students as class sizes have been reduced from the usual 15 to 10.

The capacity of the dining room has also been cut in half, as there are only 32 seats instead of 60 to 70 people before the pandemic.

For each meal, said Aragon, the chef instructor comes up with a concept for the students, who then add their own ideas.

“In my international class, I will tell them the country and they will offer the meal representing the country,” he said.

On October 27, Chef Daniel Chong-Jimenez directed the first dinner on the plate of this academic year, a Dia de los Muertos dinner.

His appetizer was a dry smoky pasilla stuffed with goat cheese, stilton and toasted walnuts drizzled with olive oil and honey.

The starter was a pork tenderloin with mole negro served with tender hominy and simmered mushrooms with onion.

The dessert was decorated with shortbread skulls served with candied calabaza with molasses and custard.

“I encourage them to bring their own ideas to the meal,” said Chong-Jiminez. “I give them the layout and the basic recipes and they have a free hand to tweak things and use their own creativity, their own ideas and their own techniques. “

For the last dinner of the year, he said, students can do whatever they want as long as it meets the criteria of the program.

Aragon said the final dinner, which will take place in the spring, will be a gourmet seven-course meal with a food and wine pairing for the main course.

“We try to give them the opportunity to experience a real setting,” he said. “It’s different when it comes to friends and family. When you open it out, the energy is there. When you bring in people from outside, the detail is there. They focus on trying to get everything perfect.

The two-year program is unique in that it is the only one in Connecticut to be certified by the American Culinary Federation.

“In our region, we are the only community college to offer this kind of program,” he said. “Every five years they come to assess us and assess us how we can improve.”

Students are in class from 3 p.m. to 9.50 p.m. and learn in a restaurant-style work environment, Aragon said.

The students say they are delighted to be part of the program.

Joshua Barber, who started in 2019, said, “I graduated from brain surgery in 2016. I came to school and didn’t have a lot of resumes. The program helped. They got me involved in the community. I have met a lot of great chefs in the industry. My goal is to start my own business.

That goal, he said, is coming to fruition with the start of Fusion Que Delights, a barbecue catering company that he operates out of CliCK in Willimantic, a commercially licensed cooperative kitchen.

Shay Mason of Meriden, who is also a sophomore and started studying culinary arts in high school, said, “This program has opened a lot of doors,” like the chef from Louisiana who taught them how to make okra.


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