For Conestoga College's new chef-technologist Eric Neaves, a mid-May trip…
With the new Bloom restaurant in the new Conestoga College Waterloo Campus–the John W. Tibbits Campus, to be exact–in operation now for about six months, the results have already proven positive: culinary and hospitality students are learning more and executing better in the busy Bloom restaurant.
“We are far surpassing what we were able to do before in our new location,” say Keith Muller, Chair–School of Hospitality and Culinary Arts. “We have a lot of repeat clients but different repeat clients than what we’ve had before. It’s building, and dinner services are a lot more busy than they were at the old location.”
Outside customers are starting to discover Bloom, and its bright and open concept, a concept that is integrated with the campus since the restaurant couldn’t have its own store-front, according to Muller. “It’s at the heart of the campus. It’s bright and airy and captures the natural light. And, for lack of a better term, it’s Danish modern with the wood and glass that surrounds it and the large communal harvest table.”
The restaurant is open Monday to Friday with lunch service seatings between 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and dinner service seating from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Currently, two courses at lunch are $19 and three courses are $21. Dinner is $21 and $25. There’s also grab-and-go sandwiches available at lunch.
The current menu includes Bibb lettuce and charred pork belly, celeriac puree, a tuna tartare, a ricotta gnocchi dish, Cornish hen with preserved lemon risotto and rack of lamb with seabuckthorn berries. Desserts are a chocolate tart with passion fruit sorbet and pear parfait with a cocoa nib tuile.
As far as wine, there are five whites and seven reds, all offered by both the glass and the bottle. There’s some beer and five or six cocktails which are linked to the College’s mixology curriculum.
There is parking available around the College and there’s no charge–as long as you give your license plate number to the Bloom host. After 4 p.m., parking is free.
The “new fresh environment,” Muller adds, has created an accessible and enticing place to eat–and of course one that supports local culinary and hospitality education at the same time. The prices are remarkably affordable for the quality and unique aspect of the food.
Small groups, in particular, have been booking the facility for events at dinner and the use of the AV technology; it’s a new stream of customers for the restaurant. “It becomes a really sought-after reservation, and we’re not open Saturday and Sunday,” says Brad Lomanto, Bloom executive chef.
The 55-seat restaurant is the size it is for a designed purpose of facilitating the kind of cooking that students will most likely do in the industry. “We’re à la carte, à la minute cooking. The order comes in, and we start cooking the food,” says Lomanto. Students are also able to prepare and cook food for special events such as wine dinners.
Menu development at the restaurant is shaped by curriculum requirements and the season, says Lomanto. With students having gone through classes and demonstrations in grains and pastas, they can prepare and cook dishes like the ricotta gnocchi and the Cornish hen on risotto, as well as the tuna ceviche.
He points out that what happens in the nuts and bolts of culinary education in the classroom plays out in the Bloom restaurant. “We reinforce what they have learned. For instance, they go through butchery, and they each get to breakdown a chicken, cook it and present it for grading by the instructor. Here at Bloom, we have Cornish hen on the menu, and they need to be prepped for service with those butchery skills,” Lomanto says.
The difficulty of that transition is this: in butchery class, breaking down a chicken is relatively easy as students methodically learn the technique; in the restaurant, there are more chickens to break down and you need to get them prepped quickly and in time to be cooked. “You can do one chicken easily enough, but if you go to a restaurant, the chef will ask you to break down several before lunch. You need a lot of practice, and that’s where this restaurant comes in,” he notes.
With the new facility, students are now able to spend three days a week in the kitchen, whereas at the old Bloom it was only one day. “It’s more like working a part-time job, where you are responsible for a station or a task that you have to follow through on from beginning to end,” says Muller.
There are currently about 600 students in the culinary and hospitality programs at the College. They could grow further, estimates Muller, but he’s mindful of maintaining quality. “I wouldn’t want to get too big. We want to graduate high-quality students consistently.”
The general public can also enjoy a variety of classes offered by College instructors, from charcuterie and pasta making to mixology and other techniques.
“We’re starting to do more of that but rolling it out slowly,” says Muller adding that there’s lots to look forward to. “Next year, we’ll ramp up on that aspect of what we do once we’re settled in.”
Please note: Bloom will be closed from April 19 to May 12. The dining room re-opens for lunch and dinner on May 13 until June 21.[Banner photo/Christopher Braun]