Senior Writer

You won’t find the most exclusive restaurant in Venice on Yelp or TripAdvisor.

You can only eat there by invitation and you need a reservation. It’s only open one day a week and only for lunch and there are only three seatings — 11:30, noon and 12:30 — for four tables.

The chef, a Culinary Institute of America graduate, is considering going to a fixed menu rather than offering a rotating selection of items.

But there are no prices on the menu at the Loveland Cafe, where the people in the Loveland Center’s Hearty Kitchen Academy get to show off the skills they’re learning from Chef Craig Paige and lucky diners eat for free.

The menu isn’t extensive but the curriculum is. Participants learn food, kitchen and service safety in phase one, then move on to cooking and other tasks in phase two.

Cooking is the most popular job because “cleaning up sucks,” Thursday’s staff said in unison. But it’s an integral part of kitchen duty.

The menu for lunch typically consists of salad and sandwich choices, with a beverage and dessert. Currently the options change weekly but Paige said he’s planning to go with a set menu for a few weeks, then switch the options.

Friday’s selections — the cafe is only open on Fridays — included a reuben sandwich and chicken noodle soup.

On Thursday, Matt was slicing bread to be seasoned and toasted for croutons while Nick and David got pasta and carrots ready for the soup.

Tessa was making a pineapple upside-down cake.

“My favorite!” said Jennifer Bushinger, Loveland director of Community Impact.

Chris and Jack, who would be servers Friday, got the silverware ready in the area where the cafe sets up, outside the full commercial kitchen where the meals are cooked.

When he was hired, Paige said, the large appliances were in place but a lot of equipment was still needed because the kitchen hadn’t yet been put to use.

“They said, ‘Buy what you need,’” he said. “I bought a lot of stuff.”

The “stuff” included portable induction cooktops so that students in wheelchairs who couldn’t safely use the six-top stove could still cook, he said.

The shortage he has to deal with now is space, he said. There’s just not enough room to accommodate all the people who want to participate in the program and learn skills that can get them jobs.

Nearly 19% of Loveland’s clients who are employed work in food service.

The plans for the cafe’s future could help that number grow.

Bushinger said that more days can gradually be added to the cafe’s schedule so that at some point it operates full time. Eventually, she said, Loveland would like to be able to open a restaurant run by clients under supervision.

That would be fine with Thursday’s staff, who all said they like the work they were doing.

“I like it all,” Tessa said.

Almost none of his students had any prior cooking experience, Paige said, but they had something more important: the desire to learn.

“I’m teaching them something that nobody can take away,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun and very rewarding.”


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