When Mott Community College (MCC) opened its Culinary Arts Institute in Downtown Flint, it brought with it a whole new dining experience. Applewood at Second & Saginaw is MCC’s upscale casual restaurant/teaching laboratory. Diners can experience fine dining – from American fare to International cuisine – and beautifully-crafted baked goods created by the students.
The restaurant features a fresh, new menu monthly that gives students an opportunity to learn and expand their creativity and innovation in the kitchen. With each menu featuring four main dishes, the dining room is open for lunch during the fall and winter semesters.
MCM met up with Chef John Lucchesi, Instructor of Food Services Management at the CAI. Lucchesi brought with him over 30 years of experience in fine and casual dining. For 15 years, he was a Restaurant Chef at the Palace of Auburn Hills, overseeing purchasing and inventory for the dining rooms and suites.
The menus for the dining room are developed by Chef Matthew Cooper, Coordinator/Instructor of Culinary Arts, Baking and Pastry Arts and Food Services Management. “He has a mountain of menus!” Lucchesi exclaims. The menu that day included enticing entrees ranging from comforting Turkey Meatloaf, Shrimp & Grits Charleston-style, to exotic Spiced Emu & Spaetzle. “The Spiced Emu is wonderful,” says Chef Lucchesi, describing the taste as “very mild and delicious.” “You can try foods in our dining room you have never eaten before,” he adds.
There are also appetizers, soups, salads and sandwiches on the menu. “Our Shrimp Bisque is super popular,” says Lucchesi. The Apple Faro Salad is another diner favorite – a simple salad comprised of crisp juicy apples, crunchy hazelnuts and hearty faro, garnished with fresh sage leaves.
Each morning, Chef Cooper goes over the menus with the students. Each student is assigned a station: soup, salad, entrée, appetizer and sandwich. “The students get a taste of each aspect of the kitchen,” Lucchesi explains. He works in the front-end of the restaurant and teaches proper serving methods and guest interaction. Diners can actually watch their food being prepared on the line. According to Lucchesi, the dining room is supported by four different classes: Professional Cookery/International Cuisine, Baking/Pastry, Garde Manger (preparation of cold food) and Ala Carte. “In order for the dining room to run smoothly, we need all four classes to be in action.”
Chef Gregory Campbell, Culinary Instructor, does all of the desserts, pastries and bread, as well as managing the food production for the Coffee Beanery, which is located at the school’s entrance. Desserts on the menu included a scrumptiously delicious Hummingbird Cake, decadent Cappuccino Cheesecake (sour cream cheesecake flavored with coffee and served with warm chocolate and Kahlua sauce) and Mama’s German Chocolate Cake, a slice of chocolatey goodness. “And, Chef Campbell gives generous portions,” Lucchesi notes.
Applewood at Second & Saginaw has seating for 56 guests. “And we usually fill up,” the chef reports. “It’s becoming a go-to lunch place. It’s something new, and people can get a really good, quick lunch.” They also do a brisk carryout business.
All of the executive chefs at the CAI are certified through the American Culinary Federation. “We all went to school to learn to be chefs and worked many years,” says Lucchesi. “We bring a ton of experience to the classroom.”
Lucchesi feels that the culinary school has been great for Flint. “We love being Downtown! It’s a whole different vibe and they did a beautiful job with this building. Flint is really cool and it has been nice to be part of its revitalization.” But he says the best thing about it is that the school turns out a whole lot of good students. “We can compete with or even surpass any of the other culinary schools. It is a professional, quiet kitchen. We teach them the professional way of doing things.”
Not only is it good for the students, it is especially good for those dining at Applewood at Saginaw & Second. “It’s the best price in town,” says Lucchesi. “It’s a great value for the food we serve and the wonderful dining experience.”