When I recently visited Technique, the student-run restaurant at Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Mendota Heights, the sparse dining room’s lone, frazzled server ignored me for a bit and then chastised me for arriving before my reservation (especially puzzling, since I was actually a few minutes late).
The experience reminded me of the last time I’d been to the restaurant, in its former location (in another part of the campus down the street), where diners waited for their tables in a spare, institutional hallway, like naughty students outside the principal’s office. When a table was ready, the young host popped his head through the doorway and asked my guest and me, “Are you ladies ready to get sat?”
There are, understandably, a few aspects of the school’s demonstration restaurant that could use polishing. And its airy new digs, though they are a major upgrade from their window-less predecessor, are still somewhat generic and unappealing. But when a three-course lunch costs $13 ($16 for dinner), such concerns are easier to accept.
After about a year of training, students have a final, six-week stint at Technique to put their classroom skills into practice under an instructor’s supervision. They learn to prepare luxury ingredients (I’ve lucked into fresh oysters and foie gras) as well as more pedestrian ones (I’ve settled for meatloaf and cod).
When I’ve dined at the restaurant, the cooking technique has been respectable: of late, I’ve eaten delicate seafood cakes, a complex corn chowder, and an elegant lemon tartlet. Any culinary mistakes I have encountered at Technique—overzealous salting, for example—are ones the pros make, too.