At this culinary school’s student-run restaurant, the chefs of tomorrow get a passing grade.
The service is polite, prompt and slightly deferential. The atomosphere is cozy and quiet at the wood-lined wine bar, happily noisy at the tables and frenetic in the bustling kitchen. Suits talk business over sandwiches while two tables of women, resplendent in red hats, exclaim with delight over each new plate and coo like grandmothers at the young waiters.
A new hotel eatery, perhaps, or a high-end Park Avenue bistro? Try an industrial park restaurant on John Young Parkway, next to a giant car dealership. Machon, the student-run restaurant at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, positions us as diners in the middle of classroom education, as instructors put novice chefs through their paces. Open for lunch and dinner, it’s worth the trip to sample world-class cooking on a modest budget.
Groups of three and four, gleaming in chef’s whites, huddle around each station in the very visible kitchen, one cluster at the oven, another over by a prep table, curious apprentices studying each step of a dish’s journey. Whatever the goal of a maitre d’ or chef, everyone gets experience in every part of the restaurant—students rotate from chopping and searing to serving and clearing.
The whole bag of restaurant tricks is practiced: meticulous carving of the baby lamb chops ($12); using focused knife skills to create zeppelin-shaped tournéed potatoes; putting plates down on the right and taking them away on the left. Caesar salad ($12 for two) is prepared with a flick of the wrist tableside. Scratch-made pastry is light and multi-layered, the salmon ($11) is char-touched from the pan and pinkishly moist within, and irresistible coffee ice cream accompanying a bite-sized chocolate tart ($4) is made fresh every morning.
True, there are some missteps. An otherwise complementary sauce overpowered the lamb chops with too many olives, and the students are left adrift at a hint of complaint. But that’s why these folks are here, and what gets to the table is solid “A” material.
This isn’t Top Chef reality-show cooking. The winners here don’t get new cars or TV stardom, they get a chance at their dream jobs. The kid serving you crème brulee at Machon today could be the chef at your favorite restaurant tomorrow.