Chef's Palette Cafe & Grill: Dine Where Chefs Become Chefs
The dining room of the Chef's Palette Cafe & Grill looks much like any high-end restaurant. A hostess stand sits at the entrance. Formal place settings, replete with bread plates, salad, and dinner forks on the left, crisp white triangular folded napkins in the middle, two knives to the right, dessert fork and spoon atop, and water goblet just off to the side, sit on each tabletop. Pristine black tablecloths gently drape over wood-framed chairs with deep-red upholstered seatbacks and cushions.
Although the space itself seems intimate enough, there is more of a buzz in the air than you would find at most formal spots. Windows exposing classrooms and kitchens surround the room. Students excitedly pass back and forth from room to room wearing bright-white chef's coats, often carrying with them books and the occasional cake or baked good.
Part of the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, the Chef's Palette is a student-run restaurant. As a six-credit class usually taken during an undergrad's last semester, the restaurant gives future chefs hands-on training in the real-time workings of a live restaurant. During the ten-week course, students take turns operating the front and back of house for paying customers, spending half of the time in each area with a role that changes daily.
It's a diverse group running around, with cooks ranging in age, ethnicity, and background -- from a 29-year-old woman who is a practicing attorney from New York to a soft-spoken 19-year-old man who dreams of working in European kitchens. Through the glass, chef instructor Dustin Gordon can be seen working with the students in the restaurant's kitchen. At 37, with the exception of his tall pleated toque blanche -- which indicates higher rank than the floppy white hats donned by students -- Gordon could easily be mistaken for one of his pupils.
The class operates three days a week. Wednesdays are used for setting the dining room, prepping, and receiving food. Thursdays and Fridays, the restaurant is open to the public from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. and again from 6 to 8 p.m.