The kitchen at the student-run bistro Chez Nous is a busy place on Tuesday afternoons. The noise of pots and pans fill the air as students chop, stir and prepare food on silver-topped counters. People run around, talking about things like soup, shells and sauce.
The third class of the cooking focus in the Hospitality and Management major requires students to work at Chez Nous in the fall for dinner. It is a lab where students run and operate the restaurant and cook and serve the food. Chez Nous is French for “our house.”
While sitting around a table in one of the classrooms that connect to the kitchen, Caitlin Cassidy, executive chef for the Thursday night lab at Chez Nous, said working there is always interesting.
“Since you’re doing this for credits, you’re paying for this experience. But when you’re running the café and the dining room, it’s like a real restaurant.” Cassidy said. “You’re doing this for a grade, but also it’s your name and your reputation in the public.”
NMU professor of tech and occupational studies Yvonne Lee teaches the class, which she said is important for the major.
“There aren’t a whole lot of fine dining experiences in the area, so we provide that for the students. We have white linen table cloths, napkins, gourmet cuisine and attentive service; that’s what we have to offer. It’s a unique experience in a lot of culinary schools,” Lee said. “When I started 16 years ago, we only had two dozen majors, now we have over 150. I think the reason we’re so competitive as a hospitality, with emphasis in culinary, program is because we’re able to provide this lab experience.”
Jim Hybarger, general manager of the Wednesday night class, said the experience was very beneficial.
“It’s kind of intense, sometimes. Depends on the people you’re working with,” Hybarger said. “I think it’s a good way to be original, too, because all of the stuff we serve, we come up with. Everything that we’re serving we made the menu for it.”
Chez Nous offers a five course meal with two different choices of entrée. Thursday night the entrée choices are Paella a la Valenciana, which is a traditional Spanish seafood dish, and Chicken Empanada. Each week will contain a different menu for each day Chez Neus is open.
Cassidy added that while the recipes may not always be original, the menus were compiled by students from other sources to complement
each other and serve together.
“Every menu has a general theme and then we’ve found recipes to go with it or created ones,” said Dana Wynn, supervisor. “Our menu [on Wednesday] is Italian and the one on Thursday is Spanish.”
Mark Machus, Sous Chef, or assistant executive chef, for Thursday nights, said that every night was given “a personal touch” by the creators of the menus.
Chez Nous is open Wednesday and Thursday nights from 4:30-7 p.m. The labs technically start at 2:30 on either Wednesday or Thursday, depending on which section the student is in. Yet the kitchen was buzzing with people Tuesday. Machus explained the phenomenon.
“Individual groups come in the day before, because they know if they don’t get their [stuff] done, it’s not going to get done on the day that is technically allotted by the school. So they’ll get anything they can get done the day before for pre-preparation,” Machus said.
The rest of the staff all nodded their agreement. Cassidy said she felt the staff at Chez Nous worked very hard to make sure everything ran smoothly.
“For this class, the majority of the preparation is not done on the day of service. On service day, the focus is on getting the food from its raw state to cooking it and serving it. So tomorrow, [Wednesday, Nov. 11,] Jim’s night is Italian, but they’re doing as much of the prep today as they can so that all they have to do is cook it and serve it,” Cassidy said. “Everyone is exceeding their hour of requirement for all of the classes of this program.”
Walk-ins are accepted, but reservations are strongly encouraged. The price is $14.99. Wildcat ID cards are not accepted.
“Students are really welcome. It’s a great date night. Even if they can’t come this year, they can come next year,” Lee said.
Chez Nous runs until Thursday, Nov. 19, but it will be re-opening after Spring Break next semester for lunch.