ROCKLAND — “There’s a different mindset that comes into play of actually having to succeed for other people,” said Charles Butler, the Culinary Arts teacher at Mid-Coast School of Technology. “Primarily what the students have done is just challenge themselves to the extent of ‘how well can I do this?’”
Starting at the end of March, however, they will cook, bake, serve, and interact with strangers who have very real opinions.
The Osprey Nest at MCST recommences its restaurant-style curriculum following a three-year pandemic hiatus. Along with a few changes to the cafe’s mode of operation, the school is showcasing a new baking program that emerged after splitting and expanding from the former culinary curriculum. The two-year pastry class aims to provide intricate sugar-based centerpieces to each table, as well as make the sweets that complete each meal. And, for diners who want to take an extra sweet home, the pastry program has set up display cases for individual purchases.
Teaspoons, tablespoons, measurements. Timing. Every day is math, said Steve Watts, MCST baking teacher and former owner of Rockport’s Three Dogs Cafe and Sweet Sensations. Right now, the pastry class is working with cakes and butter creams. Soon they will move to bread, which they hope to include in restaurant meals.
“Baking is very precise,” he said. “If these kids want to bake, they need to learn that it’s not a little of this and a little of that. Recipes have standards that we need to teach.”
Restaurants have standards, too.
“This is going to be a real eye opener,” said Watts, who began teaching this year. “We’re on a tight schedule – getting things ready and done in time.”
Culinary teacher and former restaurant chef Charles Butler echoed the sentiment.
“This is one of the first times that we really have a very hard deadline,” he said. “The doors open at 12. Everything has to be ready at 12. Right now, we’re [only] at the mercy of the bells that have us leave at the end of the day.”
This year’s Osprey Nest buffet returns from 12 – 1 p.m., with only one seating. Reservations are required, and new this year, credit and debit cards will be accepted. For a $15 meal, forks tease open the diversity of the world with each week’s theme of French, Mexican, Asian, or other culinary palates. Students will hustle as they fill the roles of chef, server, host, and cashier, earning real-life experience in the future careers for which they strive.
As close to a real-world cafe as MCST has provided, this is still a learning space, and this year’s limited seating is set in place to reduce the students likelihood of getting overwhelmed. The limited dining timeframe allows for the students to clean before catching their buses.
“The customer who comes in here is sitting, literally, in our classroom,” said Butler. “Hopefully they all embrace it for what it is – a teachable moment for the students.”
The purpose of this dining scene is for the students to do their best. But mistakes will be made, according to him.
“We may be striving for perfection as much as any other restaurant, but for a lot of these students, this is their first experience really doing the volume of what we have to do, and to the level of what we have to do, as well.”
For more information about the school, www.mcst8.org
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