Sunday, 19 May 2024

Yuba College program trains tomorrow's culinary artists

The kitchen at the campus is an exciting and busy place as students learn the culinary trade. Photo courtesy of Robert Cabreros.



CLEARLAKE – Jackson Pollock didn’t take a class on how to throw paint at a canvas. He first attended art school and then developed his signature style.

The same can be said of the food at Aromas Restaurant at Yuba Community College Clearlake Campus. The food is good gourmet food without gilding it with pretentious truffles and caviar.

Chef Robert Cabreros, who teaches at the college, is currently training the next wave of culinary artists who will affect the food trends of Lake County and beyond. He recently hosted this writer over two full days, offering the chance to watch the students prepare and serve the lunch service at the college’s restaurant.

There are currently 18 students in the class with a full waiting list to enter the program.

Why is there so much interest in the culinary program nowadays? Cabreros said he believed it was because obtaining a position in the culinary industry is being viewed as an actual career now.

He said that opinions have changed in large part because of the way that food networks and learning channels have made cooking mainstream, and how the industry as a whole is now viewed with more professionalism as opposed to how it was seen 20 years ago.

Cabreros himself is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu, which is the same cooking school that trained the legendary Julia Child. For you youngsters out there, it’s the same school from which Giada De Laurentis graduated.

He said he never intended to become a teacher, but he was hand-picked by his predecessor and now says he couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

The formality of some culinary schools is not required in this class. Demanding that every order be responded with the entire room yelling out “Yes Chef!” is set aside here; it’s very casual and Cabreros' students just call him “Robert.”

To watch Cabreros talk about his students is like watching a parent speak of their his child. You can see the pride in his face and hear it in his voice as he talks.

He doesn’t consider his class a springboard program so you need to go on to another school to add onto your education. His course is a complete package that gives culinary students everything they need to be successful in the industry.

Cabreros talks of his students with confidence saying, “He’ll be an executive chef within five years,” and “She’ll be a sous chef within two years.”

To look at the students of this particular class is to see the word “diversity” in its purist form: young, old, every race, sex, skill level, interest, financial background and personal style. The youngest student is 15 years old and the oldest is 60.

The restaurant itself is as “green” as it can be. Waste has been reduced 75 percent, everything that can be recycled is, and the edible waste is sent to a pig farm as feed.

Local produce is used when available, and the daily menus are even printed on half a sheet of paper. The to-go orders and “doggie boxes” are made of biodegradable bamboo.

Lake County has yet to have any rating system for how green a business is or even recognize businesses as green, but Aromas restaurant has pushed the envelope all on their own. The county could use this program as a template for rating other Lake County businesses that would like to brag about being “green.”

The sanitation and cleanliness of the restaurant is impeccable. A dirty spot or bad sanitation habit couldn’t be found. This is one of the cleanest kitchens this writer has ever seen, which is a fantastic foundation for the students coming from this program; they are learning good habits that will follow them to their next kitchen.

Even safety is top notch. “Knife!” and “Hot Pan!” are always shouted out when someone walks through the kitchen with one. On occasion a student would use poor knife practices, and Cabreros would be right there to show them the correct way to do it and remind them that scars aren’t cool.

The group of students move about the kitchen with the synchronized movement of a school of fish, but walk through the kitchen and all of a sudden the words “Excuse me,” “Pardon me,” and “Look out behind you!” were suddenly being said over and over.

Although all of the students have different skills and talentsm there are three that deserved mention.

Matt Morgan is so talented and skilled that this writer actually assumed he was part of the staff until Cabreros said otherwise. Morgan currently works with Julie Hoskins of Chic le Chef and cooks prolifically throughout the county. If you attend many public functions around the lake you’ve most likely already eaten his food. He’s also on the cover of the college’s most current class schedule.

Julie Wonderwheel also currently works in the food industry and it is evident in her incredibly precise knife skills. When she's doing cutting up onions it looks like they went through a mandolin. She works quietly in all of her tasks but her performance made her stand out.

Kacie Carson, a Tinkerbell-sized girl, has amazing creativity and an eye for detail that you rarely get to see so early in a career. When she decorated a plate with caramel and chocolate Cabreros said with excitement, “I have never seen anything like that before!” Remember her name; she’s going to be famous.

The prep work continues all morning with each individual doing a specific job on their own, with only as much supervision as they need. The individual students hustles through their particular tasks, but when the restaurant opened they seemed to transform without a word into a seamless machine working in unison to get the lunches out in quick order. It was impressive to see such teamwork, everyone knowing what needed to be done and doing it together.

The restaurant opens at 11:30 a.m. and people are seated right away. Since the restaurant has no particular theme or ethnic style they are able to make all sorts of dishes. Prices are almost freakishly inexpensive; if you have $10 you can easily eat lunch and if you have $20 you can bring a date.




The class has a wide range of individuals of all ages, skill levels and backgrounds, all of them hoping to work in the food industry. Photo courtesy of Robert Cabreros.




Thursdays are the busiest day of the week since it is prime rib for $8 a day. Prices are perfect for a restaurant on a college campus, giving starving students a much-needed break from ramen noodles.

The timing of the meal orders is impressive. The first table’s orders were placed and the kitchen put it together, completed it and had it on the table in three minutes. The next table took two minutes. The longest wait was five minutes from order to table.

Every table gets a comment card and they get filled in; service, cleanliness, food and speed are rated from one to 10 and a remarkable amount are turned in with 10s filled in across the board.

At 12:45 p.m. the entire crew was still going at full speed but the fatigue was starting to show on their faces after four hours of non-stop work. At 1 p.m. service is completed and the crew starts to prepare their own group lunch, after which is cleanup.

A recent bond measure will be providing the culinary program the funds to enlarge its facilities and hire a larger staff, so if you have ever been interested in a career in the culinary arts now is the time to sign up.

Remember, there can be a waiting list to get into this program. The next semester starts in January and sign up to join it starts Dec. 1 or if you just want a gourmet inexpensive lunch, drop by between 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Aromas Restaurant at Yuba Community College Clearlake Campus is located at 15880 Dam Road Extension, Clearlake. The restaurant can be reached at 995-4804; for general college information call 995-7900.

Ross Christensen writes the Foodie Freak column for Lake County News.



Presentation and great taste work together to make Aromas restaurant a great place to eat. Photo courtesy of Robert Cabreros.




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