Dine around the world this fall without even leaving Hillsborough County.
The Quill restaurant at Southern New Hampshire University (2500 N. River Road, Manchester, 629-4608) opened for meals on Thursday, Sept. 13, and began its rotation of fall semester dishes styled Italian, Northern and Eastern European, Iberian, Middle and Far Eastern and classical French ways.
“Everyone’s welcome. We put so much care into the food, and if you don’t like it, you can bring it back,” said senior Zach Forsythe, who was doubling as lead sous chef and teaching assistant for an international cuisine class serving Italian lunch.
Along with fellow seniors Brittany DeJesus and Jillian McCarthy, Forsythe, in his signifying striped pants, was helming a group of 15 or so sous chefs, servers and prep cooks. DeJesus and McCarthy were managing the front of the house, directing waiters and seating the diners, among whom were professors and students.
“This program really helps you find out if this is the job for you. You learn all about baking, cooking, managing and all the other opportunities in this field. A lot of it is what you put into it,” McCarthy said.
Forsythe was in a similar position last year, working as a teacher’s aide. He “likes working with kids,” he said, and hopes to go into culinary education. Head Chef and Professor Bill Vasvary, wearing checkered pants and a toque, gave advice around the prep table, but the outgoing operation was handled solely by the students.
“It’s cool to hear him leading by example, getting people in the right place — there’s no messing around, but he’s not yelling at them,” said Chris DeCloux, general manager of the culinary program.
Reservations are recommended for dinners, which have one seating only, but diners are welcome to stay as long as they want. Except for special events, lunches are held on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays and are priced by the selection, one item for $5, two for $8, three for $10 and so on. Dinners are $28 and begin at 7 p.m.
Through September and October, students are serving Italian lunches as part of their Italian lunch classes. Typically lunches will move around to different regions of Italy for the fall, and the menus include potato gnocchi bolognese, Italian sausages braised with peppers and potatoes in balsamic broth with crustini, and other classic dishes. Spring lunches will be American food, with weekly regional delights in the style of New England, the mid-Atlantic, the deep South, the “Floribbean,” creole and more.
Dinners are held on Thursday and Wednesday nights, the beginning and end of class weeks. Classical cuisine is served on the even weeks, for example, Oct. 4 to Oct. 10 and Oct. 18 to Oct. 24, in seven-course meals. On odd weeks, such as Sept. 27 to Oct. 3, the international cuisine class hosts, and the menu rotates around the world depending on the lesson.
Because classes are discussing the Iberian Peninsula and Latin America, trans-Atlantic delights from warmer regions, like ceviche and gazpacho, will be taught, refined and then prepared for the dinners.
For a cheaper date, try spa cuisines on classical Wednesdays. They are $15 per plate and feature seven small courses. Complete menus can be viewed at www.snhu.edu.
Seating at the Quill has booths and tables for large groups and smaller, intimate tables as well; the décor is modern and the lighting dim. There is a bar, and although the restaurant does not have a liquor license, guests can bring their own wine and beer only, and get stemware and corking. At the rear, a window looks into the kitchen.
Students start as waitstaff and prep cooks and move into manager and head sous chef positions during their last semesters.
“We want to keep it as a boutique program. It has gotten very solid over the years, and keeping it small is the way to ensure it stays that way,” DeCloux said.
The class of 2012 is about 50 strong, and SNHU has about 100 incoming culinary students, a growth that DeCloux welcomes but is trying to now keep level. Culinary students make up 10 percent of the student population; the program has six full-time faculty and four adjunct professors. Students will have the same instructors over two or three years, he said, and that cohesion allows The Quill students to become a tight-knit crew.
“I probably know the parents’ names of every student; I know I know every kid. Everything is done by them, the mopping, the dish washing, everything,” he said.
Sandwiching internships between freshman and sophomore year gives the students a feel for what they’re getting into. Some will transfer to another culinary major, moving to baking, hospitality management or a different major entirely, with many general education credits still intact.
Part of the curriculum this year is a visit from renowned Italian chef Lorenzo Polegri. Hailing from Orvieto, Italy, Polegri now operates Ristorante Zeppelin, but before that he grew up on his family’s farm, managing vineyards, olive trees, grains and vegetable crops. From ’87 to ’93 he managed the Coldiretti farmers trade union and trained farmers in things like olive oil production, marketing, experimental truffle cultivation, new vineyard planting techniques and organic farming.
“He came up through the ranks of farming. He’s the real deal,” DeCloux said, and with rise of farm-to-restaurant movements in the state, he added, Polegri is a perfect fit. Polegri prepped dinner for the first family at the White House twice. But even that doesn’t hold a candle to doing so for the James Beard Society, one of the most prestigious cooking organizations and which DeCloux compared to “winning the Super Bowl.” Polegri has done that a half dozen times.
On the evening of Monday, Oct. 29, Polegri will curate a menu for the Etruscan Chefs in New Hampshire dinner; SNHU students will cook from it while Polegri demonstrates his techniques and promotes his new book in the dining room. He will be joined by Zeppelin Pastry Chef Kim Brookmire, a chef instructor from Boston with 20 years’ experience as a connoisseur of Italian culture, cuisine and baking. Proceeds from the $75-a-plate dinner will help fund a chef-exchange program in which 10 students will visit Orvieto in March.