"We come here instead of a restaurant," said Toni Janicki of Worcester. ''The kids do a good job." She and husband Cas thought the veal chops served two weeks ago were particularly outstanding.
Community college dinners are so popular that tickets, at $8.75 each, sell out within 10 minutes of going on sale, said program director Debra Hunt. Some 500 would-be patrons are on a mailing list but only 60 guests at a time can dine in the small room.
Eight dinners with different menus each semester are offered.
Harry Pegg of Oreland gets up at 5 a.m. to be one of the first in line at the college bookstore when tickets go on sale, about two weeks before each dinner.
"I like the variety of the food," he said.
"It's as good as going to someone's home who is a good cook," said his wife, Bertha.
Last week, they ate Manhattan clam chowder, Waldorf salad, rolls, seafood Newburg, steamed asparagus and lemon chiffon pie in a setting of candlelight, china and cloth napkins folded in fleur-de-lis fashion.
Only a few hours earlier, students had struggled with where to place salad forks and water goblets.
"Most have never folded napkins," Hunt said. "They work at restaurants but most restaurants say, 'Here's an apron, go work.' Nine out of 10 do not know how to set a table the right way. You cannot learn this program by the book. You have to have experience in the field."
A refurbished kitchen gives students more opportunities for experience. Last year they had to wait until the food service was done for the day before cooking.
Although students are required to work in restaurants or elsewhere in the food-service industry, the dinner menus are designed to train the students in various aspects of food preparation, Hunt said.
"There's a lot of preparation in this meal, more so than other dinners (that the students have done in the past)," said student Maureen Iacovino of Norristown.
For example, fresh lobster, crabmeat and shrimp was sauteed before being
put in the Newburg sauce. The seafood was then ladled over puff pastry made
from scratch. A pound of fresh lemons were squeezed for the pie filling. The rolls were made from scratch, too.
"Tonight's meal is very complex," said instructor Ed Smith. "But if we served something easy like a roast beef or a baked ham . . . (those) are the meals customers tend to evaluate as the best."
Diners complete a written critique of each meal. Some are hard-pressed to find fault, said Hunt, and usually just request recipes, which they can receive in the mail.
Next semester, students will pair up as management teams and plan dinners around themes such as New England, Bucks County inns or Mardi Gras. "This is not a culinary school," said Hunt. Students are taught to follow recipes and hone organization and cooperation skills.
Graduates of the two-year program receive an associate degree in applied sciences. About a third of the students transfer to four-year schools and eventually work as chefs or in the hotel industry, Hunt said.
In the meantime, area diners are waiting for word on the next supper.
When dinners were postponed last spring due to kitchen construction, "the phone rang off the hook," said Smith. "For a lot of people this is a night out. For $8.75, why not?"
FOR MORE INFORMATION
* To get on the mailing list for Montgomery County Community College Hotel and Restaurant Management dinners, send name and address to Debra Hunt, MCCC, 340 DeKalb Pike, Box 400, Blue Bell, Pa., 19422.