One of the very best-kept secrets of the New Haven dining scene is hiding in plain sight, right at the entrance to downtown. In its new home, Gateway Community College is now even more aptly named since that street intersection is the gateway to New Haven. But unknown to many, on the college’s first floor, once or twice a week, a multi-course meal is served with candles, flowers, and delicious food by students in the hospitality and culinary arts program.
In 1999, while at Gateway’s former location on Sargent Drive, Prof. Andrew Randi realized a full-service restaurant would provide his Hospitality and Culinary Arts students with a great learning opportunity and resume builder. Now in the new building with expanded kitchens and a tidy dining room that seats up to 45 diners, Cafe Vincenzo provides one or two meals weekly to a waiting list of diners.
Cafe Vincenzo has become part of the curriculum that teaches cooking in the classical, cooking-school style. Students order the ingredients, design the menu, cook the food, set up the dining room and act as wait staff. The students rotate their positions weekly so each person experiences all aspects of a full-service restaurant. “The students do everything from scratch,” Randi says. “They develop the menu, the purchase order, the descriptions, the job assignments, they do the decorating of the dining room, and they are 100 percent in control of start to finish of that dinner. I advise if needed. It’s locally sourced, everything is fresh, we make everything from scratch, from the baked goods and breads to the stocks and soups, there are no mixes.”
Randi, who has three degrees in hospitality and years of experience at hotels, also had his own restaurant in New Haven called Spankys. When he became a full-time culinary/hospitality professor in 1998, the program had 28 students. Today there are 120 and the staff has expanded to include a full-time culinary coordinator, Dan Palmquist. The culinary arts program is open to all. Students range from high school to professionals looking to stretch or change careers, to senior citizens who can audit for free. “You get all walks of life,” Randi says. “If you want to just take a baking class, you can just take a baking class. My oldest student was 88 and she was great.”
During the fall semester Cafe Vincenzo offers dinner on Thursday nights only. In mid-February, for the spring semester, the school adds lunch on Wednesdays. Dinners during the spring semester aim for international fare. Because of the diversity of the student body, Randi says, “the students tend to make meals from their own background and diners get truly authentic international dishes.”
Anyone can sign up to dine at Cafe Vincenzo, but be forewarned: because of the low prices and high quality of the cooking, the meals sell out for the entire semester within three days. Call Patricia Abrams (see below) to get on the notification list.
Restaurant Website: http://gatewayct.edu/Student-Life/Cafe-Vincenzo
• The Detes: Room S102, first floor of South Building, Gateway Community College, 20 Church St., New Haven. Call Patricia Abrams at 203-285-2269. Fall and spring semester Thursday dinner is 6:30 p.m. Spring semester Wednesday lunch at noon.
• Price Range: Four-course dinner, $20. Lunch, $12.
• Style of Food: American, with a touch of Continental
• Doing good and delicious: yes.
• Drinks: soft drinks, or BYOB
• Vegetarian: here and there