Enthusiasm from the students in Cape Fear Community College’s hospitality management and culinary arts program emotes from the kitchen, as rich, intoxicating aromas of classical French cuisine permeate the air. Every Wednesday night during the fall, students get a chance to show off their chops in CFCC’s Our Place Restaurant (411 N. Front St., Emmart Building, room W018).
As part of the culinary department’s public program, the students put together a four-course dinner service, with the menu changing each week (vegetarian options available, too). From a first-course of toasted French bread, Roquefort cheese and dried pears to a Bouillabaisse entrée of mussels, shrimp and tilapia in a stew, students in the class are in constant rotation—each taking on the role of server, front-of-the-house manager, cashier, chef, grill or sauté cook, dessert/pastry chef, and so on. It ensures students become well-acquainted with each facet of the dining experience before moving on to a career in the food industry.
Gwen Gulliksen, the culinary instructor at CFCC, has taught the course since January 2016. A highly accomplished chef—earning the Julia Child French Research Grant and first place in Chocolatier Magazine’s recipe contest in her tenure—Gulliksen is passionate about being the best in the industry.
“One main thing students take away is how to become professionals,” Gulliksen says. “There is a big difference from cooking in a home kitchen to cooking in a professional kitchen and we try to prepare them for this before graduation.”
The cost of the meal ($15 for dinner, $10 for lunch in the spring—cash or check only) covers the cost of the supplies used to make it. Reservations fill up quickly for the three time slots: 5:45 p.m., 6 p.m. or 6:15 p.m.
“Our program is unique in that we are located in the heart of downtown where many students work,” Gulliksen adds, “and CFCC has so many other opportunities available for the students while they are here to be involved in.”
Within the program, young chefs can study anything culinary related, from menu design to dining-room service to culinary production. The mission guarantees students finish with an understanding of the rigors of the industry, personal interaction skills, and respect for their peers, as well as acknowledging the history and culture of the culinary field.
“Our facilities may be small compared to other colleges in the state,” Valerie Mason, culinary department’s program director, says, “but we know all our students on an individual basis and have a great amount of personal interaction and contact with them. All our classes have a great instructor-to-student ratio and if students need help we are always available and easily accessible.”
“One of my favorite homework assignments is having my students make a favorite dish from their childhood and write a paper about it,” Gulliksen says. “I’ve gotten amazing results from this in writing and cooking. Food memory is strong and emotional, and this exercise helps my students really think about the food and the people who they make it with. Food made with love and passion always tastes best!”
Reservations for the school’s global cuisine class in spring, which hosts the lunch experience, usually is available the second week of January. With seating allotted for only 50 people, spots fill quickly, so Gulliksen recommends booking a reservation at the beginning of each semester (http://cfcc.edu/ourplace). Payment is made the night of the dining experience.