The Bistro Café: Craft-based learning in a real world setting

on February 5 | in Uncategorized | | with No Comments


The Bistro Café at Les Roches Marbella is the one place on campus where everybody stops at some point during the day. Students, professors, staff and guests congregate in the café each day for their morning coffee break and between classes to grab a quick snack. Meanwhile, at lunch the café reaches its peak hour of the day when it prepares and serves meals to as many as 60 guests. They all go to the Bistro because they are usually in a hurry and this means organization and preparation are vital to providing a service that is not only fast but also quality conscious. This means our day starts in Bistro well before the rooster’s does.

At 6:30AM we are already organizing the day’s menu, printing off the mise en place list, and of course wheeling out the trolley from the cold room to be sure that the ever so important morning cup of coffee is ready for our first guests at 7:15.  Shortly thereafter, Mr. Rytz briefs the morning class on their daily duties and then sends a sleepy eyed group of three over to me (Mr. O’Keefe) in the Bistro Café to start preparing the day’s menu.

We start by reviewing the menu item by item and I always choose one student to be in charge of the mise en place list, beginning with checking the cold storage inventory remaining from the previous day. If we still have items that can be used, they are checked off the list and from here we begin putting together the meals and snacks that will be on offer throughout the day. We make it a point to carry out the most time consuming preparations like marinated dishes or baked goods first and once they are in order the students take a quick coffee break before returning to the kitchen to prepare starters, wrap take away goods, and set out items that are displayed in the café’s bar area.

The kitchen in Bistro, like many fast food oriented establishments in the real world, consists of three main sections: salamander (broiler), grill and salads. A comprehensive understanding of how each section functions within the whole of the kitchen operation is integral to our craft based learning approach at Les Roches and for this reason each student alternates between the three sections during his/her duties in the café. After a few weeks in this fast paced environment, they begin to get a firm grasp of the many facets that come together to provide the delicious food and top notch quality service that our customers in Bistro have come to expect.

Once all of the prepping is finished during the morning hours, students get a half hour lunch break at 11:30AM. Then they man their stations at noon in anticipation of the first lunch orders at 12:30PM. From there on out it’s all hands on deck as customers begin to fill tables and place orders. This is not a simulated environment; these are real customers who want their food fast, hot, and delicious. This means the kitchen can get pretty hectic (and pretty hot) with me calling out orders to the three sections as they come in on the micros system. We arrange them on the tab grabber and systematically prepare each one to order and send them out to service in a highly coordinated fashion that focuses on efficiency and detail.

Throughout the lunch period we serve a wide variety of dishes with an international flair; soups and sandwiches, salads and hot dishes all make up the daily fare but it’s the gourmet burgers that have put Bistro on the map. Everybody who has worked in Bistro is an expert at making gourmet burgers and because of their fame; they are the one item that is available on the menu all semester long.

So, after the daily session of “Fast & Furious” ends, it’s time to pick up the kitchen and leave the mise en place in order for the following day. Of course, by now most of the students are exhausted and ready for a much earned rest, but not until Mr. Rytz and I debrief them on their day’s performance.

At the end of the day, when all is said and done, I always feel a sense of satisfaction. For me, Bistro Café is the best kitchen out of the three different types on campus. I’m not sure why but perhaps it’s that tingling of excitement I get when the pressure and tension start building up as lunch hour approaches. The energy in such a fast moving kitchen prepares students for the real world like no other and once they get the hang of it, the principles remain as the basis for their success in future classes, internships and most of all – in their professional careers further down the road.

Check out the slideshow of our craft-based learning facilities

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