'Pride' returns to the Culinary Arts classroom

Lunchtime café finally re-opens in new building after long COVID layoff

By Mike Rego
Posted 11/15/22

EAST PROVIDENCE —  A year and a few months after the new high school opened, and now basically far removed from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the East Providence Career and Tech …

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'Pride' returns to the Culinary Arts classroom

Lunchtime café finally re-opens in new building after long COVID layoff

Posted

EAST PROVIDENCE —  A year and a few months after the new high school opened, and now basically far removed from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the East Providence Career and Tech Center’s Culinary Arts staff and students formally christened their latest incarnation of the “Townie Pride Café” last Thursday, Nov. 10.

Dozens of students under the guidance of program co-directors Chefs Bill Walker and Marie-Claire McKillip along with first-year advisor Chef Jennifer Montanez busily served noon-hour guests out of their new kitchen classroom for the first time since the pre-COVID-19 days in the old EPHS building.

“COVID was the main thing,” Walker said of the delay in the café starting fresh last fall. “There were still a lot of restrictions. We weren’t really allowing people in the building. They finally lifted most of those restrictions around Christmas and then that second wave of COVID hit, so we did finally open at the very end of the school year, just for a couple of weeks. But by then it was a little confusing.

“It was not good for our guests. We had managed to confuse them enough. The first week we opened we had a few customers, but then after that we had days when no one showed up.”

Hopefully that won’t be the case for the rest of the 2022-23 term. Going forward, with the exception of holidays or academic or school-related events, the café will operate at lunchtime twice a week for two hours.

“It’s very important for our guests and our students that we’re consistent,” Walker explained. “We’re open Tuesdays/Thursdays 12 to 1. That’s always going to be the times. And we have found that our guests really like that.”

The café offers three seasonal menus, beginning with some hearty dishes in the fall. Walker said a winter menu will be in place in January when school returns from Christmas recess. A spring menu is likely to start being served after April vacation.

The 2022 “Townie Pride Café” fall dine-in menu is as follows:
Soups ($4): Butternut squash apple bisque; Creamy Chicken and Orzo
Salads ($6): Townie Salad; Chicken Caesar Salad; California Cobb Salad
Sandwiches with chips/fries ($7): French Dip; Chicken Parm; Roasted Vegetable Quesadila
Entrees: Beef Stew with mashed potatoes ($10); Turkey Pot Pie ($10); Pasta with pink cream sauce with Chicken ($10)/without chicken ($8)
Desserts: Baked goods/ice cream as available

“This is as close as they’ll come, but it’s maybe half of it,” Walker said of how students perform during a Townie Pride Café service compared to a typical restaurant lunch “rush” period.

He continued, “Our guests are incredibly patient. They come here totally understanding this is student operated. Most of guests have a little extra time during the day. Traditional restaurants, you’re like I have to be out on time and back to work or I’m going to be in trouble with my boss. So they’re expectations are a little different. Our guests are super kind. We’re very fortunate in that.”

Students spent days practicing preparation of the fall menu in the lead up to the café’s debut. The actual service alway afforded them a hands-on glimpse of how an actual restaurant functions.

“Now that the café is open I think we’ll have more of a working environment,” said junior James McShane, who intends to pursue a culinary career after high school. “Before, we weren’t really rushed. But if you look at those guys on the line right now they’re kind of rushed, under pressure.”

Walker agreed with his student’s assessment, saying the café will offer them chances to experience all aspects of the kitchen, something that isn’t always the case in for-profit operations.

“One of the good things about us is, if one of these kids is fortunate enough to be hired by a traditional restaurant, they get hired for a specific station. You work in the fryer station, you work in sauté, you work the broiler,” Walker said.

He added, “Our kids will rotate in all the stations over and over again through each menu. So they not only get to learn each station and the basics associated with that, but they’ll also get to work the menu over and over again, all three menus. That sort of differentiates us from a regular restaurant. That’s a benefit. The downside is, and maybe it’s a benefit for kids at this level, there’s not that kind of ‘I need this now’ kind of pressure. But it’s a good introduction for the kids.”

The café also makes and serves breakfast sandwiches for staff inside the building. Outside guests can make lunch reservations for upcoming Tuesday and Thursday service at https://www.signupgenius.com/go/10c0f4eacaa2aa3fbc52-townie4. Those interested in updates on the activities at the café can visit the Facebook page, EPculinary, which Walker said is “remarkably well followed” with over 1,000 trackers.

2022 by East Bay Media Group

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A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.