By Candace Birkelbach
Killeen Daily Herald
A couple sipped red wine as they enjoyed a Mediterranean-themed meal with an elegant place setting at the Patio Cafe Friday at Central Texas College.
The bimonthly cuisine night is hosted by hospitality students in the intermediate food preparation class at CTC.
Students are in charge of every detail in planning the cuisine nights – from the place settings to the recipes.
At the beginning of each semester, Chef Ramona Lezo's students select regions of the world to base a menu on, create a menu, decide on pricing, purchase food items and organize wait staff.
Cuisine night gives students hands-on experience to learn
exactly what it's like to work in a restaurant, Lezo said Friday.
"It's very realistic," Lezo said. "Students have to adjust the menu when problems arise and find solutions."
Friday's Mediterranean menu consisted of a variety of options with ingredients typically used for cuisine in the region.
Appetizers included a lemon egg soup, and spinach and cheese pastry called spanikopita.
Main dish options were tilapia topped with sun-dried tomatoes and kalamata olives, Cornish game hen doused in butter and oregano, and grilled pork kabobs aside a tzatziki sauce.
Side dishes accompanied the hearty meals and included rosemary potatoes, creamy orzo pasta, beer-battered vegetable fritters and greens beans with tomatoes.
Each meal is served with a house salad and giant honey butter roll.
If patrons saved enough room for dessert, they could choose from rice pudding or baklava, a Turkish-inspired pastry made with layers of crispy phyllo dough sweetened with almonds and honey-infused syrup.
The Friday night crowd was filled with regulars and first-time visitors to the school's cuisine night.
Members of the Luke family said they enjoy coming to cuisine night because of the elegant fine dining experience.
They said the food quality is better than a typical restaurant, and they enjoy the variety. The Luke family has been attending CTC's cuisine night for about two or three years.
Annie McGuire, of Copperas Cove, said she got there early to make sure she could get her top choice of main course – a Cornish game hen.
McGuire said she likes to dress up and eat in an elegant setting with real tablecloths and napkins.
"I've eaten all over Europe, so I can tell when the cuisine is done right," McGuire said. "I always look forward to it."
An executive chef is randomly selected for each cuisine night to be in charge of the cooking and serving process.
This week's executive chef, Teresa Stover, said she picked the Mediterranean theme because it is one of her favorite places to go and she loves fresh ingredients such as olives, oregano and tomatoes.
Stover, an active-duty military member, said she is used to deadlines, but the kitchen is a little hectic.
"I feel like I've got a good grip on things, but small things pop up that you have to fix," she said. "There are dangers in the kitchen that you have to be aware of all the time."
Stover said her dream is to open her own bed and breakfast inn.
"I love to cook, and everyone here shares that passion," Stover said.
Slava Rygin, a student in the basic food preparation course, said he volunteers to decorate plates for cuisine nights because he loves playing with the colors of garnishes.
"It's up to me, and I get to select what goes on each plate," Rygin said as he placed garnishes on a plate of tilapia.
Rygin created tomato flowers, lemon and cucumber slices and sprigs of greenery to adorn each plate.
Upcoming themes for cuisine nights include Latin, American, Asian and Italian.
Chef Lezo and her students also prepare lunches Monday through Thursday at the Patio Cafe from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. using similar region themes. To see the menu for the week, visit www.ctcd.edu.
Contact Candace Birkelbach at email@example.com or call (254) 501-7553