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Santa Rosa Junior College’s Culinary Cafe reopens for spring semester

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If You Go

What: Santa Rosa Junior College’s Culinary Cafe

Location: 1670 Mendocino Ave. in the B. Robert Burdo Culinary Arts Center

Restaurant Hours: 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. lunches Wednesdays through Fridays

Bakery Hours: 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays

Menu: https://bit.ly/3aDkhVs

Kody-Michele Hamlow was terrified when she first started working at the Santa Rosa Junior College’s cafe for her culinary arts class — she had never worked in a kitchen before, and didn’t know what to expect.

Now in her last semester at the college, Hamlow quickly and expertly created beet salads and other dishes Wednesday, when the Culinary Cafe reopened to the public for the spring semester.

“I really like that it gets you to jump into the culinary industry,” Hamlow, 19, said of the cafe. “It really prepares you for the real world.”

The cafe, which is located in the B. Robert Burdo Culinary Arts Center on Mendocino Avenue, serves lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday though Friday, and is run by students in the college’s culinary arts department. It will be open through March 13, and will reopen again for the summer and fall semesters, said Betsy Fischer, who teaches front house operations and restaurant management through the cafe.

Students enroll in one of three classes to operate the cafe: Students in the kitchen cook the dishes on the menu, students in the bakery prepare the pastries and students at the front of the house greet, seat and serve their customers. The three classes are taught by instructors with experience in the culinary arts industry.

“It really is an exact replica of a restaurant, outside of the school situation,” Fischer said. “There’s really nothing different about it.”

Catelyn Kennedy, 20, works at the front of the house, seating guests and serving them their meals. Kennedy, who wants to be a chef and hopes to own her own restaurant one day, said working in the cafe is a great opportunity.

“It’s a lot of hands-on work,” she said. “It’s a lot of gaining the experience that you need to go and get a job.”

The cafe’s menu changes each semester and was decided by Shelly Kaldunki, the chef instructor this semester. Kaldunski said she picked a menu based on the curriculum her students need to learn. Her menu — which features a variety of soups, salads and pizzas, as well as dishes such as lavender honey chicken and prosciutto roulade — is also based on seasonality, so she can teach her students how to cook dishes suited for the spring.

“The chef instructor’s goal is really to make a menu that’s going to give ... the best learning experience to his or her students,” Fischer said. “We’re a school first, we’re a restaurant second. We put our students first. And, fortunately, our guests absolutely love that.”

In fact, many of the customers who came to the cafe’s reopening Wednesday were longtime regulars.

Mathew Livingston, a 56-year-old Petaluma resident, is a self-described “foodie” who has been coming to the cafe for years. He called both the food and service “outstanding.”

“The quality here — it’s just phenomenal,” he said. “It’s the jewel in the crown, for me, in this county.”

For others, like Santa Rosa residents Joan Pollard and Marge Sorbi, it was their first time visiting the student-run restaurant.

“They’re doing a wonderful job. They’re getting trained beautifully — it’s obvious,” Sorbi said. “I would recommend it to anyone.”

“I’d say five stars!” Pollard said.

You can reach Staff Writer Chantelle Lee at 707-521-5337 or chantelle.lee@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @ChantelleHLee.

If You Go

What: Santa Rosa Junior College’s Culinary Cafe

Location: 1670 Mendocino Ave. in the B. Robert Burdo Culinary Arts Center

Restaurant Hours: 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. lunches Wednesdays through Fridays

Bakery Hours: 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays

Menu: https://bit.ly/3aDkhVs

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