The Savory Palate at the Art Institute of SLC | Restaurant Reviews | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

The Savory Palate at the Art Institute of SLC 

The Next Food Star: Learning the tricks of the chef trade at Art Institute of Salt Lake City.

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One wall of The Savory Palate restaurant is made of glass. It allows diners to peek into the restaurant’s kitchen and watch the culinary team hard at work. But, this is not a typical “demonstration” nor an “open” kitchen, a la Bambara, Pago, The Wild Grape, etc. That’s because The Savory Palate is a laboratory— of sorts. Not only are diners watching the activities of the kitchen staff, but the staff is also carefully watching the customers. This is no ordinary restaurant.

For starters, The Savory Palate is only open two days per week. And on those two days—Tuesday and Wednesday—it’s only open for lunch. You’re probably thinking, “How can a restaurant survive only serving lunch twice per week?” Well, I guess you could say this restaurant is subsidized. The Savory Palate is like any other restaurant insofar as the idea is to manage costs and to operate profitably. Part of what is going on at The Savory Palate is that “managers” and “chefs” are learning how to control costs, provide professional service, create delicious food and do all the other things that go into operating a successful restaurant. But these managers, chefs and servers are all students.

The Savory Palate is a laboratory restaurant, open to the public, where students in the Culinary School at the Art Institute of Salt Lake City (AiSLC)—which is actually located in Draper—get to practice real-life cooking, management and service in a controlled-learning environment. Interestingly, even if you haven’t ever visited The Savory Palate, chances are good that you’ve eaten food prepared by AiSLC students—or, perhaps, been served by some of them at your favorite restaurants.

These days, I suspect many people just assume that restaurant chefs are born and bred on the Food Network. But, in fact, chefs are a lot like actors, musicians and other creatively talented folk. Most of them toil away virtually unknown and unrecognized—in community theaters, nightclubs and local restaurants—while only a minuscule handful wind up on the big screen, with record deals, or hosting their own cooking shows.

And, like many actors and musicians who attend drama and music schools, the path to becoming a professional chef or restaurateur often includes formal training along with internships and apprenticing. Places like AiSLC are, for me, where the real magic happens—where enthusiastic, hardworking young (and sometimes not-so-young) people learn the culinary arts. Professional chefs are not created by the Food Network.

Rather, food-industry professionals are molded in places like AiSLC, which opened its culinary school in Draper two years ago. And there is more to becoming a professional chef/restaurateur/baker than just cooking. So, at AiSLC, students in the culinary school study college algebra, English composition, speech and communication, historical and political issues, computer literacy and such on their way to associate of science degrees in baking and pastry or culinary arts, or a bachelor of science in culinary management. Of course, along the way, AiSLC Culinary School students will also find themselves in courses with titles such as garde manager, European cakes and tortes, Asian cuisine, Latin cuisine, nutrition, art culinaire, American regional cuisine, management by menu, artisan breads and baking production, sanitation and safety, baking science and theory, and many more.

When they emerge, many of these (mostly) young people will find their way into careers working in hotels, restaurants, resorts, catering companies and so on. Some of them are already at work as interns in local businesses. They’ve cooked and served your food. These internships provide valuable real-world experience for students to accompany the knowledge and skills they learn at school. Granted, these kids are also a source of cheap or free labor to restaurateurs. But, that’s the way chefs have been trained since the beginning of time. Just ask great chefs/teachers like Jacques Pepin.

AiSLC culinary academic director Frank Krause runs a tight ship. In his AiSLC kitchen, students stand at attention and listen carefully. The kitchen is spotless; you literally could eat off the floor and, except when Krause is giving instructions, you can hear a pin drop. The culinary school students don’t go to AiSLC to party; they go to learn. I’ve never seen students more focused anywhere. In a day of Twittering, iPods, Facebooking and a gazillion other potential distractions, it’s wonderful to see students so engaged in learning.

Frankly, the service during lunch at The Savory Palate was better than I get in most restaurants. Granted, a server forgot to remove a charger plate during lunch. But she came back, embarrassed, and apologized for the mistake. Needless to say, it didn’t ruin my lunch. Students at AiSLC learn to operate both the front of the house and the back. Chefs spend time as servers and soon-to-be restaurant managers spend time in the kitchen.

Lunch at The Savory Palate is $12.95 for three courses. Krause describes it as “five-star cuisine at two-star prices,” and he’s not far off. Two starters, the Vichyssoise and the sea scallops with mushrooms and asparagus were superb. An entrée of braised short ribs with roasted potatoes, pearl onions and a sauté of Swiss chard and spinach was equally terrific. When asked by Krause and the students for feedback, I couldn’t think of a single thing that would have improved that dish, or others I tried. In fact, I tasted nothing at The Savory Palate that I wouldn’t happily eat again. These cooking kids? They’re alright.

The Art Institute of Salt Lake City
121 W. Election Road

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