This story originally appeared in the April/May issue of Living Northside magazine.
It’s easy to know when student chefs are nearing graduation at the Atlanta Art Institute’s International Culinary School of Art in Sandy Springs.
They’re clad in white chef coats and hats in a restaurant kitchen, moving about in good humor as a team. Some might chop vegetables, while others add ingredients, stir cuisine cooking over a flame, or carefully place their food creations on a plate for guests.
The student-run dining room is aptly named Creations Restaurant, but culinary director James Paul calls it a “dining lab” where students get actual chef experience preparing dishes under a variety of conditions for about 30 guests per seating. They rotate duties by cooking European and modern American food, as well as serving patrons and cleaning the kitchen afterward.
The restaurant kitchen is one of the final quarterly classes culinary students take before graduating under their instructor, chef John Oeschner. Manager Lindsey Brewster also trains them in the dining room. When the quarter ends, a new class starts with an extensive new menu of appetizers, entrees and desserts. Recent plates have included pan-seared salmon in bouillabaisse broth, Flemish-style beef short ribs, and char-grilled chicken paillard served with saffron Israeli couscous. The newest menu debuted April 11.
“Essentially, I open a new restaurant four times a year,” Oeschner says.
Since opening in 1999, many Northsiders have dined at Creations. Three-course meals are currently $16.
“There’s definitely a certain level of pressure, because you are preparing real food for real customers who are coming in to pay for a meal,” says student Angelina Brown. “But at the same time, you know your instructor is there.”
Brown worked as a cook in the U.S. Army for several years. After graduation, she wants to start a catering business.
Classmate Michele Morris thinks about operating a Southern-Mexican food truck with her mother, and adds that she enjoys cooking everything. “I just love the emotion it brings in people,” says Morris, while adding the finishing touches to grilled Portobello mushroom over barley risotto.
Student Jose Rosario intends to create a charity in his native Dominican Republic to combat hunger. He enrolled in AIA already a graduate of the International Culinary Center in New York, and has nearly eight years of restaurant experience in the city. AIA has helped to develop his management skills, he says.
“I cook my meal as if it’s for me,” Rosario says. “I taste everything before I serve it to [people]. I put a lot of care into a dish. I present it as if it was for me because that’s the feeling you want to feel when somebody serves you something.”
Time management and restaurant experience are the two essentials students get at Creations, Oeschner says.
“That’s really the basis of the whole class,” he adds “To take the food knowledge they’ve learned on how to cook things, but now [show them] how to take it to the next level where they can cook and give it to me when I say, ‘I need it now.’ That’s the way a restaurant works.”
Creations Restaurant. Days of operation and lunch or dinner hours vary throughout the year. Current hours are 11:30 a.m.-1:15 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesday and Thursdays, April 11-June 1. Art Institute of Atlanta, 6600 Peachtree Dunwoody Road, building 100, fifth floor, Sandy Springs. Call for reservations. 770-394-8300. Find the latest menu at facebook.com/creations.aia.
Meals are generally served within 30 minutes, but can be served at a slower pace upon request.
Gluten-free plates are usually on the menu.