James Hammond grew up in Brooklyn. He says he was inspired to pursue cooking by his uncle who is a chef. And while Hammond has worked at a restaurant before, he says the student run Signatures café has introduced him to a faster-paced style of food service.
"You have to be here now, you have to be here then,” said Hammond. “And it was a lot of movement on my feet, being more ready, more agile. And I like that."
The café is open Tuesdays and Thursdays for lunch, serving typical bistro fare such as soups, sandwiches and wraps. Two faculty members supervise the operation, one in the kitchen and the other in the front of the house, but it's the responsibility of the students to do most of the work.
"It's a really great experience. You learn how to work with people, you learn how to expedite, call out tickets. Just learn how the flow of the restaurant works,” said student Alexis Chamoff.
At Signatures, the students perform all of the tasks, not just the glamorous positions. That includes waiting and busing tables and, of course, washing dishes.
The café is staffed by a mixture of culinary arts majors and other students in Hospitality Management. But on Friday evenings, the culinary students run the whole show in what's called Signatures by Candlelight. The restaurant switches to a five course prix fixe menu with a lot of student input.
"In the first couple of weeks of the semester, they have a chance to help develop the menu,” said David Brower. “Then they price out all the items and design the menu and how it's going to look."
Menu items include crab fritters, pan roasted striped bass and braised pork belly. Everything about the service is designed to replicate a fine dining experience.
"You get to work with more intensive food, more aggressive food. And the plating and the style of preparing is a lot more difficult. But, you learn,” said Mark Garcia.
Signatures by Candlelight is the capstone course for second year, second semester culinary arts majors. With real-world experience under their belt, SUNY Delhi graduates should have the skills they need to go out and feed the world.