Zagat Restaurants: L'Ecole
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Aspiring chef Jon Almosa, who is enrolled in the classic culinary arts program at the French Culinary Institute in SoHo, feels the heat at L'Ecole, the institute's on-campus restaurant.
"It's a pressure, too much pressure," says Almosa.
L'Ecole, which means "school" in French, opens its doors to the public, offering students a taste of real-world cooking.
"For a diner I hope it's just a great dining experience. As for students cooking, it's an educational experience," says Nils Noren, the institute's vice president of culinary of pastry arts. "And it's very important that they get to cook at this level to prepare them to be successful in this industry."
Under the guidance of chef instructors, students rotate between stations, preparing every course on L'Ecole's seasonal menu. Students say this hands-on approach is invaluable as they work toward their gastronomic goals.
"I want to be a private chef on a yacht. I do a lot of fishing myself, that's basically what I want to do when I grown up," says student Margie Adams.
"It's fun, it's challenging, it's a good time. It's exciting that you're going to be in the industry one day," says student Stuart Dunn.
Some graduates may even follow in the footsteps of renowned chef Bobby Flay, who was part of the institute's first graduating class 25 years ago.
Diners don't necessarily get to grade the student chefs but they are encouraged to offer feedback on comment cards.
"I got the lamb loin, it was delicious," says one diner.
"The value is amazing. L'Ecole is the best-kept [secret]. Don't tell anybody, we love this place," says another.
Zagat, out of a possible 30, gives L'Ecole 25 for what surveyors call "amazing prix-fixe meals," 20 for decor and 23 for "earnest" service. Expect to spend about $52 for a meal.