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Lunch at South Seattle College: A West Seattle Secret

Lunch at South Seattle College: A West Seattle Secret
June 10, 2014

The term "school lunch" is generally met with culinary skepticism.  Many minds reel back in time to long lines with shuffling, impatient kids, surly lunch workers and a plate of food that left even the least picky with something to gripe aboout.

Most of those school lunches, of course, were not backed by a Culinary Arts program like we have at South Seattle College.

Right here on campus, Monday through Friday, students, teachers, community members and staff have some fine dining options to choose from at Café Alki, the Alhadeff Grill and the food court.   No more instant mashed "potatoes" with mysterious "gravy"; this is a step above.  And the best part:  every meal brought to the tables is made and served by South students, working in unison with their instructors to forge successful careers in the culinary field. Garnish that with the fact that all proceeds go back to our Culinary and Pastry Arts programs and you have yourself a winning lunch idea!

To see all the dining options at South, please click here.

We caught up with a group of friends having lunch at the Alhadeff Grill, to ask them about their experience.  Turned out they had plenty to talk about:  they've been coming here consistently for over 20 years!

Deryl and Barbara Sadler from Kent and their good friend Roger Turppa from Seattle's Wallingford neighborhood began meeting at South for lunch back in the early 1990's.  The spot was chosen by their late friend Jerry Smith, a West Seattle local who loved dining here.

We asked what keeps them coming back after all these years?

"We like the atmosphere, the food is great, and it's kind of a fun thing to just get together," Deryl said. "There are real culinary artists coming up here.  We've eaten in the cafeteria and the Alki Café as well.  I guess you'd say it's rewarding to see these people learning and doing so well and working hard at it."

"The desserts are fabulous," Barbara added.

"With what they serve and the price structure, you can't beat it for lunch," Roger said.  "Prices you can't beat and support for the college at the same time."

To give an idea of how pricing plays out for lunch at South, a Confit de Canard (duck confit with garlic potatoes and salad) entrée at Alhadeff only runs $7.95.  In comparison, a duck confit plate at Café Campagne in downtown Seattle will set you back $18!

As we talked with Roger and the Sadlers, their student chef for the day brought out a selection of appetizers to choose from.  A far cry from the school lunch of yore, on offer was ahi tuna tartar with avocado and soy dressing, custard and roe served in an egg shell, seared duck with shitake salad and sea urchin with quail egg.

"These are works of art," Barbara said, her eyes widening with the gastronomic bounty at hand.

Deryl, whose son graduated from South's Aviation Maintenance Technology program during his 20 years of dining at South, said it has also become a tradition to bring their out of town guests here, where they tour the AMT facility and have lunch at Alhadeff or Alki.

"I think if you had one visit you'd be a repeat customer," he said.  "There's no way you can come here and not enjoy this and recommend it."

Culinary Arts Instructor Darrell Tsukiji said the Alhadeff, Alki and food court provide students with the opportunity to experience both sides of the business - kitchen and dining room - to better prepare them for the professional world, and providing customers with a roundly perfect experience.

"I always tell students you can prepare the best food in the world but if the customer isn't well taken care of when dining in a clean restaurant, you may have very few people to cook for because they won't return," said Tsukiji.

Stephen Friend, a Culinary Arts student who is graduating this quarter and plans to return in the fall for South's Hospitality Management Bachelor of Applied Science degree, said working both in the kitchen and on the dining room floor is an invaluable experience.

"It's all about communication between the back of the house and the front of the house to avoid the adversarial relationship that exists in many restaurants today," Friend, who hopes to become a hospitality manager, said.

He also appreciates South's regular patrons, like the Sadlers and Mr. Turppa.

"You see a lot of the same faces and it is great because they fully understand that this is a working school … that the people who are going to cook and serve your meal are all students.  They are veryhelpful in accommodating our learning curves and filling out evaluation forms to provide us feedback on what we did well or where we can improve.  It is so very much appreciated."

The Alhadeff Grill is named after long time South Seattle College supporters Marjorie and Michael Alhadeff, who in 2003 contributed a leadership gift to the Culinary Arts Capital Campaign that made the restaurant's creation possible.