Back to its Roots: Culinary Education Returns to Downtown New Haven

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Sixty five years ago, World War II veterans came back from war and many needed work.  Two women, Frances Roth, a New Haven attorney and Katharine Angell, the wife of Yale’s then-president, worked together to create a culinary arts school to see to it the men had a trade. The school – the first of its kind in the country - opened on Prospect Street.  Within four years 600 veterans from 38 states had graduated from what went on to become the Culinary Institute of America. It remained in New Haven through the 1970’s when the renowned school grew out of its space and moved to Hyde Park, New York.

Now, in 2012, culinary education has returned to downtown New Haven. Passersby walking along Church Street can take a peek at students in Gateway Community College’s (GCC) Hospitality Management Programs, as the next generation of chefs, bakers and hospitality managers ply their craft. This fall, at GCC’s street-side Café Vincenzo, people who live and work in downtown New Haven have a chance to partake in some fine dining with a dinner menu created by GCC culinary students and their instructors.

Starting in October and each Thursday night through December 13, dinner will be served at the café at 6:30 p.m. The café is located in room S102 in GCC’s South Building. Upcoming menus feature lasagna with an escarole and bean soup and tiramisu for dessert and roast prime rib encrusted with fresh herbs with a seafood bisque soup and orange milk chocolate mousse. Cost is $20 per person, payable at the café that evening. People interested in making reservations can call (203) 285-2269 and should leave their name, phone number, number of people in the party and the date they wish to dine, however, they should wait for a returned call from GCC for a reservation confirmation. Parking is available on Church Street at meters and in the Crown Street Garage and Temple Garage which have entrances on Crown Street, Temple Street and Frontage Road. The Temple Garage parking ticket can be validated by the security guard when entering the building. 

Stephen Fries, professor and Coordinator of Hospitality Management Programs, said hospitality is one of the largest and fastest growing industries in the United States and the GCC program is growing as well. Where there used to be one Principles of Food Preparation course, there are now three, as interest and demand increase. “It’s as if we have gone full circle bringing culinary education back to where the Culinary Institute got its start,” Fries said. "Now the local people living and working downtown and people from all over can experience and support our program. We want all of our past guests and our new guests to take advantage of all we have to offer."

GCC’S move to the downtown campus is fitting because the Elm City is such a culinary destination. “New Haven is truly a food haven. We have the most diverse offering of restaurants in the state and it is exciting to be right in the middle of that. When our students have internships, they can walk down the street to intern at an award-winning restaurant with some of the best chefs around," Fries said. “They can later find work at these restaurants. We are so happy to be here.”

In the spacious teaching kitchen with eight different cooking stations and in the baking lab, students work in light-filled rooms with large windows that provide expansive views of the downtown. Café Vincenzo, located just off the restaurant kitchen, is a warm and inviting setting. It seats 50, with tables for four that can be joined together for larger groups. At one end of the room is the demonstration kitchen where professors, student chefs or visiting chefs and cookbook authors can hold cooking demos and cookbook chats “We plan to hold many events here with well-known chefs and cookbook authors,” Fries said.

“It’s a wonderful setting,” added Patricia Abrams, Educational Assistant in the Hospitality Management Program. “We think people will love it here.”

The café provides students the opportunity to cook and bake for patrons which Fries said is absolutely essential. “It is so important for the students to have that real life experience,” he said. Café Vincenzo has long had a loyal following of patrons who used to dine at the old Long Wharf campus each Thursday night.  Abrams said the café regulars particularly enjoy the students’ beef dishes and all of the Italian meals and desserts. This year’s citrus cheesecake promises to be a delight, she said.

In the spring the café’s offerings will expand to include lunch.  Some of the dinners will feature international cuisine where students will choose a particular country and all of the menu offerings and the café’s décor will center on that nation.

GCC’s Hospitality Management programs offer associate degree programs in food service and hotel management and certificate programs in Culinary Arts, Meetings, Convention & Special Events Management and a Professional Baker’s certificate. Students can take courses in everything from Principles of Food Preparation to International Foods and Catering & Event Management. Students in degree programs take courses in other departments such as Human Resources Management and a computer course.

The associate degree programs combine management theory with practical hands-on experience. The Culinary Arts certificate program provides students with a strong culinary foundation and practical skills necessary to succeed in the food service industry.  It is also ideal for those who just want to be culinary artists in their own homes, Fries said. Career possibilities are endless, Fries said, as hotels, motels, restaurants, conference centers, catering establishments, airlines, cruise ships, theme parks, health care facilities, and other establishments offer a myriad of exciting and rewarding careers in hospitality and cooking.

On a recent morning, students in the Basic Baking & Pastry Arts class were baking French bread. They just finished kneading the dough and lined up the small rounds of dough on the counter. “Now it’s time to cover them up and let them rest,” said Chris Barstein, the instructor. “SHHHH. We have to let them take a little nap.” The students chuckled. Later in class they would be baking demi-baguettes, Danish and scones.

“I love it,” said Amy Cargos of Orange who is taking the course, “I have so many options. I can get a degree or a certificate and the career opportunities will be out there for me.” Carly Shwartz of Woodbridge said the course has taught her how to be a professional and she likes that part of being that professional means dressing the part in restaurant whites and baker’s hat.

Fries said the visibility at the new GCC campus will help the hospitality programs to thrive. “We are very excited for our future.”   

The Café Vincenzo fall menus are:

November 15th

Soup: Cream of Winter Squash Soup

Entrée: Roasted Turkey Breast w/ Fresh Herbs

Dessert: Fresh Apple Pie w/ Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

November 29th

Soup: Mulligatawny Soup

Entrée: Yankee Pot Roast w/ Roasted Vegetables

Dessert: Chocolate Raspberry Mousse Bites

December 6th

Soup: Beef Barley Soup

Veal Marsala

Dessert: Flourless Chocolate Cake

December 13th

Soup: Italian Wedding Soup

Entrée: Chicken Parmigianino w/ Linguine

Dessert: Pistachio Citrus Cheese Cake

Most dinners come with field green salad, seasonal vegetable and starch.