By Lori Lynn Hirsch Stokoe, Food Writer and Photographer
It’s one of the best kept dining secrets in all of Southern California, where the food is impressive, the service is genuine, the ambiance is unique and the cost for a 5-course gourmet meal is … $25.
The students of the Los Angeles Harbor College Culinary Arts Program benefit from community participation and this is a secret they don’t want us to keep.
At 6 p.m. Thursday nights, third semester students present their “PM BISTRO” dinner series. They feature a five-course menu gastronomique, each week spotlighting a different cuisine. This semester they showcased Jewish, Thai, Mexican, Italian and Indian foods. The prior week the theme was “Exhilarating China.” The last dinner in this series was on May 29, highlighting “Old World Cuisine of Germany.”
In 2010, the Culinary Arts Program acquired its first full-time instructor, Chef Giovanni Delrosario. He has worked tirelessly to grow the program. Chef Giovanni is dedicated to helping the students succeed. His advice on how to improve their products is invaluable. He delivers his positive critiques with encouragement, putting in many unpaid hours with the students, many of whom are from less fortunate backgrounds. He challenges them to be their absolute best.
On a small plot of land right outside the Culinary Arts building, Chef Giovanni is teaching the students how to grow their own produce: a profusion of herbs, fruit, and vegetables ranging from commonplace (zucchini, lettuce, thyme) to exotic (lemongrass, cherimoya, epazote). The chef and his staff show the students the best ways to showcase their organic produce in soups, stews and salads. One of the courses offers an in-depth study of the history and purpose of herbs and spices in the context of world flavor profiles. They learn to develop a sense of taste of herbs, spices, and condiments. They also determine when and how much to use in cooking.
The Harbor College Culinary Arts Program awards more certificates-of-completion than any other of their Career Technical Education programs. Career Technical Education programs integrate core academics with real-world relevance, which help prepare collegians for meaningful work. Students enroll full-time in the 12-unit program each semester. After each successful semester they earn a skills certificate, which is valuable when applying for a job, even after one semester.
After completion of the third semester, the culinary arts students are presented with a certificate of achievement, signifying completion of a sequence of courses in the culinary arts field. Students receiving this certificate are then well-equipped to pursue careers in the food industry. In fact, an Australian company is so impressed with the program, they have hired several students within the past few semesters for full-time jobs Down Under. If the students choose to complete their general education requirements in the fourth semester, they then can graduate with an associate of arts degree.
This Culinary Arts program provides excellent training for jobs in the hospitality industry. The college is committed to offering personalized attention to each student to improve their job skills and provide opportunities for success in the labor market. Students master fundamental concepts and techniques in basic cookery, then go on to learn how to fabricate meats, fish, and poultry. They are taught food sanitation and safety practices. Other courses teach soup and sauce cookery, nutrition, baking and more. Students also learn the principles of dining room service and restaurant management, and the crucial elements and relationships involved in the successful operation of a restaurant.
With all these courses under their toques, the students are ready to showcase their accomplishments. With the help of Delrosario and his instructors, the students “open” a new restaurant every Thursday night. They choose absolutely charming decor and tabletop design to complement the cuisine. While some students are working in the kitchen, others are working the front-of-the-house, engaging the guests with their newly acquired hospitality skills. This past week, we experienced a delightful Chinese Bistro meal. We were warmly welcomed by the hostess while capable servers passed chicken wontons with plum sauce and steamed shrimp shumai.
The department is proud of their well-equipped bakery. The night’s baked goods included coconut milk dinner buns, flower rolls with green onion, and steamed buns with date filling.
Guests were seated to one student’s live piano performance. First to arrive at the table was the appetizer salad, an ambitious tea-smoked duck with glass noodle and honey ginger dressing. Then came the soup duo, a shot each of hot and sour soup and Chinese style asparagus soup. The intermezzo was very refreshing: frozen lychee-lime with lychee liqueur. The entree included two distinct dishes on one plate: char siu pork roulade stuffed with Chinese sausage over a choy greens medley and braised pork belly over fried rice. Keeping with their theme of over-delivering, the dessert course included three sweet treats: fresh mango pudding, red bean ice cream with sesame tuile and a green tea macaron. Wow!
“I am really proud of this program and the students,” Department Chairwoman Joyce Parker said. “The instructors are dedicated to helping the students gain meaningful employment and become successful members of the community.”
Will you consider bringing a group of friends for dinner one Thursday night next semester? Los Angeles Harbor College is freeway close, adjacent to the 110 Freeway between Pacific Coast Highway and Anaheim Street. The department chair, chef, students, faculty and staff would all appreciate your support, and you and your guests will certainly be dazzled by the experience.
Details:(310) 233-4029; email@example.com
Venue: Los Angeles Harbor College
Location: 111 Figueroa Pl., Wilmington, CA