“Hello patrons! Welcome to Le Café Bleu. Would you be having the chicken marsala or the country fried cube steak, the house special today? May I interest you in our honeyed pear in puff pastry, or the supremely fabulous Mexican horchata served on ice with a dash of cinnamon? Oooh la la! It’s oh so good!”
Yes! These are only a few of the delectable dishes, desserts and delightful drinks being served at Le Café Bleu, South Bay Correctional and Rehabilitation Facility’s fictitious restaurant. Only the restaurant, which is actually the culinary arts classroom, is fictitious. The food, however, is very real and mouthwateringly delicious.
There are no pre-cooked, ready-made, heat-and-serve meals presented here. Instead, all the food, desserts and drinks created in this bustling kitchen, are made from scratch.
One enters the year-long culinary arts class with limited to virtually no cooking experience and graduates with the skills, confidence and ability to, not only feed his family, but enter the food-service industry and literally feed and serve his community.
Audrey Ives is the Culinary Arts vocational instructor in the state-certified class. Students are Safe-Serve-certified before entering into the kitchen, or venturing to prepare a meal. Cleanliness and proper hygiene, she stresses, are the hallmarks of a professional chef. No detail to chef mastery is omitted as students learn all the traits of becoming a professional chef. The only exception being the knife skills as knives are strictly forbidden from entering the premises. In addition to everything else, culinary students also learn effective interviewing skills in how to obtain a job in the food service industry upon their release.
When the opportunity comes to cook for the prison staff and its guests, this quaint little classroom of about 15 students, transforms into Le Café Bleu, a name decided upon by the original class of students. The brigade system is put in place where teams of student chefs man a particular food station, i. e., salads, meats, starches, drinks and desserts. Students mise en place, meaning they put all the food and equipment for the meal in place, as well as mentally prepare and visualize before beginning it.
In the brigade system, Ives becomes the chef de cuisine, or chief of the kitchen, where she supervises all of the food stations. The kitchen manager, an advanced cooking student, becomes the sous chef, or second-in-command.
The meal is fastidiously prepared, taste-tested and approved. Particular attention to plating principles are applied where the five-star meal is artistically presented. The chefs-in-training don their regalia and stylishly serve the savory dish to delighted staff members who are the patrons of Le Café Bleu.
Fait accompli! High performance is achieved! Succulent morsels soothe the soul and satisfy the palate to such a degree that now it seems it is the patrons who sing, “Oooh, la la! It’s oh so good!”