BY MICHAEL J. RUDOLF
While a traditional Christmas dinner at home is something many families look forward to, the days and weeks leading up to the holiday can be a frenzy. Taking a break and enjoying a festive experience dining out may be just what some people need to keep in the holiday spirit.
The Susquehanna County Career & Technology Center’s food management program will be offering special Christmas meals in its restaurant, ‘A Touch of Class,’ during the holiday season.
A Christmas buffet is scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 14, from 11 a.m. to 1:15 p.m., and an evening Christmas dinner will be presented on Wednesday, Dec. 15, from 5 to 7 p.m.
David Dunster, director of the food services program, explained that the students prepare special buffets and evening meals every month, in addition to the regular luncheon menu served two or three times a week.
The holiday meals tend to be a little something extra, Dunster said.
“It’s an event for people to come here,” he said.
Noting that many families already have traditional Christmas meals planned, Dunster said the SCCTC menu tends to go in a different direction.
“They’re not your typical holiday meals,” he said.
For example, the Tuesday buffet features cassoulet – a French casserole made with pork, sausage, duck and white beans – as one of its entrees, while the evening dinner offers chicken mignon or tangerine glazed shrimp among its choices.
Besides being a change of pace, Dunster said a reason for the exotic menu is to help the students expand their cooking skills.
“I like them to be creative. We try to teach them to think outside the box,” he said.
“They have to see that there are other things out in the world besides meat and potatoes,” Dunster continued.
Dunster seeks input from the students as to what to serve, but he ultimately devises the final menus. The students receive the recipes, he said, and it’s up to them to prepare the numerous dishes.
Students working at A Touch of Class rotate among specialties, Dunster explained. They will spend some time working with soups, he said, then move on to entrees, desserts or salads. That way, they get to experience all aspects of working in a restaurant kitchen.
The students work in the restaurant as if it were a professional operation, Dunster said. And he said patrons of A Touch of Class often comment that it is no different from any other restaurant.
“It’s well worth being here for the experience,” he said.
Students say it’s worth the hard work when they hear customers praise.
“After they’re done eating, they say, ‘Wow, that was amazing,’” said Carly Bennett, a sophomore in the program.
Students say one of their goals is for patrons to forget they are dining at a school.
“For people who are dining out, it’s a different experience to go to a restaurant run by students,” said junior Ryan Jenks.
For the special buffets and evening meals, Dunster said they typically require several days of preparation. Students will work on Monday and Tuesday of that week chopping vegetables or preparing the ingredients for the entrees, he explained.
“The last day, they put everything together,” he said.
The holiday menus are intended to not only be festive for the customers, Dunster said, but to challenge the students’ skills. They have to learn techniques they may never have used before.
For the upcoming buffet, Dunster said the students will have to learn how to make French-style sauces for the cassoulet.
“They haven’t been exposed to this type of French cooking yet,” he said.
“I can’t wait to learn how to make it,” said Jenks.
Dunster said he tries to get his students to understand not only how to prepare certain dishes, but why they are made that way. Cassoulet, for example, is an old-style French peasant dish.
“I try to teach them the origins of food,” Dunster said.
Students must also learn different techniques for various types of service. At the evening Christmas dinner, Dunster said, the menu includes Caesar salad made in the traditional manner: table-side, custom prepared for each patron.
“That’s a totally new experience for them,” Dunster said.
For those who want to partake of the holiday meals at SCCTC, reservations are required by Monday, Dec. 13. Pricing for the buffet items is a la carte, while the evening dinner is $20, which includes dessert. Call 278-9229 ext. 785 to make reservations.