By Timothy Lewis
In the heart of downtown, there is a restaurant run by Riverside City College faculty and students that not only offers an education in culinary arts, but also a full-service open to the public.
The RCC Culinary Academy restaurant is located on Market Street, and provides students with professional experience and offers a plethora of items, with a rotating weekly schedule.
Under pre-COVID-19 circumstances the academy provided a full-service restaurant that was open for both breakfast and lunch. However, it is now open for takeout only.
Co-founding Chef Richard Gabriel of the Culinary Academy speculated that hopefully in early April the restaurant will be able to provide full services at a reduced capacity.
As the Riverside Community College District Board of Trustees discusses opening up campuses for in-person learning, he hopes the restaurant will be under no restrictions in the fall.
Gabriel also expressed his discontent with this year’s class size, adding that student enrollment the previous year has been tough.
“A lot of people were having to put their education on hold due to losing their jobs and had to choose between their education and their family,” he said. “Unfortunately for us and the rest of the college, people had to support their families.”
Despite his worries Gabriel was optimistic. He said that student enrollment has improved greatly and that he expects a full class come April.
The academy focuses primarily on “back of house” responsibilities, such as both basic and advanced preparation, cooking and cleaning techniques. Graduates that complete the course receive certification that attests to the student’s abilities in the kitchen.
The academy plans to include online courses in its curriculum, as well as full-credit and non-credit courses for those interested.
Students certified at the RCC Culinary Academy can leave with the skills necessary to thrive in the food industry. Professionals often reach out to RCC, looking for qualified Culinary Academy students to work for them.
Gabriel said he believes that now more than ever, there is a high demand for skilled food industry professionals.
“As the industry starts to return to normal, we suspect that our students will have more than a few opportunities to work at a few places that will be restaffing their restaurants,” he said.
Gabriel and his staff are cautiously optimistic, believing that the demand for food service jobs will bring an uptick in student enrollment.
First semester student Samantha Amaya said that running the restaurant is “not the same” as it was before the pandemic.
Government mandates on takeout-only service have resulted in slower business at the restaurant.
That hasn’t stopped Amaya, however, who has been using the internet to help bring in customers.
“Right now, it’s kind of slow,” Amaya said. “What I’ve been doing is going on the Riverside subreddit to post the menu there weekly. We’ve gotten some people from it who’ve said they’ve never known this place was here.”
Chef Robert Baradarn is in charge of the academy’s senior program, which focuses heavily on kitchen cooking and etiquette. He shared that students primarily learn classic French cuisine, as well as a multitude of ethnic and international dishes.
Baradarn also began holding a large emphasis on food-cost consciousness and management in his junior curriculum, as this helps students prepare for the various roles they may end up playing within a restaurant setting.
“One thing we teach is controlling food costs,” Baradarn said. “Our prices are very competitive in comparison to some of the neighboring businesses, but we don’t want to raise our prices as we are a learning institution.”