Link to article https://www.jacksonville.com/entertainment/20200227/fscjrsquos-downtown-jacksonville-cafe-offers-training-bargain-lunches
Cafe Frisch at FSCJ in downtown Jacksonville gives students the skills they need to work in the restaurant industry — and gives diners a real bargain on lunch.
Seven bucks doesn’t go very far at lunchtime in downtown Jacksonville. You might find a bowl of soup, maybe a sandwich or a salad.
But a bowl of gazpacho, a plate of pecan-breaded pork tenderloin with refried beans and Spanish rice, plus dessert and a drink, served in a sit-down atmosphere with real silverware and white tablecloths? For seven dollars? There’s just one place you’ll find that.
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Cafe Frisch is a student-run restaurant at Florida State College at Jacksonville’s downtown campus, at State and Laura streets. The room seats around 40 people and is a classroom — the waiters are all students in FSCJ’s Culinary Arts program, as are the cooks in the kitchen, supervised by a teacher who is also a certified chef.
The cafe serves lunch on Tuesday, Thursdays and Fridays, and dinner on Thursday evenings. Reservations are required, usually several weeks in advance. Lunch is $7, dinner is $11. There’s no bar service, but diners can bring their own wine to dinner for no additional charge. The menu does not include vegetarian options, but if you ask when making your reservations, the kitchen can prepare a vegetarian meal.
The menu changes every week. This semester, students are learning American cooking. They’ve already done New England, New Orleans, Southern and Heartland. Still to come are Southwest, California, Northwest, Florida and Hawaii.
This is no throw-it-in-the-microwave sort of fare. At a recent lunch during the New Orleans-themed week, diners started with a bowl of made-from-scratch Creole chowder. The main course was a choice of Chicken Bayou Lafourche, Medallions of Beef Marchland de Vin, Flounder Fillet with Cajun Butter Sauce or Crawfish Etoufee, all served with iced tea, sides of Creole Eggplant and Dirty Rice and a Bread Pudding dessert.
FSCJ Downtown Campus, Building C
Lunch seatings at 11:30 a.m., noon and 12:15 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursday and Fridays. Dinner seatings at 6:30 and 7 p.m. Thursdays.
$7 lunch, $11 dinner
Reservations required by calling (904) 633-8151 or going online to fscj.edu/cafe-frisch
For seven dollars.
They did international cuisine in the fall, and buffet-style dining is planned for the summer semester.
Richard Greene, dean of Professional Studies and Public Safety at the college, said he makes a practice of coming to the cafe during the first week of each semester, then checking back a few weeks later.
“You can see the growth,” he said. “Their skills are fine-tuned. It’s easy to forget that you’re not in a restaurant run by a professional staff.”
The Culinary Arts program has about 120-140 students enrolled at any time. Students start with a sanitation safety management class, learning the basics of working in a kitchen. Students must take two full semesters of classes before they are allowed to work in the cafe.
Bob Mark, instructional program manager of Culinary Arts and Hospitality at the college, said there is a wide range of students in the program. “Some of them are 18, some of them are 50,” he said. “Some have a lot of experience, some don’t have any.”
It takes two years of study to earn a Culinary Arts degree, but very few students finish in just two years, Mark said. About 90 percent of the students also work. Many take a handful of courses and learn enough to land a job, then return later when they find they can’t get promoted without more training.
To earn their degree, students must also put in 600 hours at a paid internship. Students in the program have interned in Europe and Alaska. The Disney parks in central Florida are also popular, but most do their internships locally.
“You’d be hard-pressed to find a local restaurant that does not have ties to the program,” Greene said. “We are usually not challenged to find internships for our students. In Jacksonville, there is a shortage of qualified help in kitchens, especially front-line cooks”
The program graduates about 40 students a year, Mark said. FSCJ is a state-supported college and the cost for the two-year program is about $12,000, including tuition, books and labs. Some students continue their education, earning business or management degrees that will help them open their own restaurants.
“We just give you a good foundation and point you in the right direction,” Mark said.
Students working in the Cafe Frisch dining room start each shift with a lineup, where they meet with the kitchen staff to learn the specifics of each dish on the menu. Each student working the dining room is assigned one table, and they take orders, deliver dishes and refill drinks — all the things waiters do in fine-dining restaurants. Then, after the cafe is closed for the day, they meet again in a classroom to discuss what they learned that day.
Cedric Madriaga, a second-year student from Jacksonville, worked as a waiter on a recent Friday lunch shift. He said he prefers working in the kitchen but welcomed the opportunity to gain some dining room experience. “I get to see how the front of the house works,” he said.
The kitchen is overseen by professional chefs certified by the American Culinary Federation. Each has at least 15 years experience working in a high-end restaurant kitchen.
Jessica Godfrey is on a pace to finish the program in the summer — the first in her family to graduate from college. She was working in the kitchen as an “expo,” serving as an intermediate between the chefs and the cooks to make sure the people in the dining room get exactly what they order. She said she hopes to to take what she learns into the workforce when she graduates. “I want to heal the world through food,” she said.
The program isn’t for everyone, Mark said. Graduates can expect to start out making $10-12 an hour and work 50-60 hours a week, including weekends and holidays. “When I talk to new students, I emphasize that to do this, you have to have a real passion for this career,” he said.
The cafe is named for Harry Frisch, founder of Jacksonville’s Beaver Street Fisheries, who donated money to move the cafe from the school’s North Campus to downtown and, at 96, is still a regular in the dining room. It opened in 2016 in the space that formerly housed the school’s welding program, with four kitchens, a pantry and state-of-the-art equipment.
Tom Szaroleta: (904) 359-4548