Affordable (and Delicious) Dining at SNHU's The Quill

A five-course dinner for $28? Yes, it’s delightfully true — you just have to be part of a learning lab for culinary students at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU).

Any trepidation is quickly dispelled upon entry at the public restaurant in the Hospitality Center on campus. A nicely tooled metallic sign announces, “The Quill, schooled in gourmet fare.” Each dish on the menu is beautifully plated as a visual menu — a sneak peek of the dining possibilities for the evening. The variety is amazing with about seven entrées, from fish to poultry to steak, two salad offerings and six interesting appetizers on display.

The university has been running a culinary program since the early ’80s, but upped the ante about two years ago when they renovated the onsite restaurant, “The Quill.” The makeover added a bar, complete with a quill-shaped bar top, sophisticated lighting and nicer materials all around. It’s a very pleasant dining environment that could compare to any fine dining in the area. The name, The Quill, is a nod to the past when the university originated as a school of accounting in the early 1930s, and even farther back to when Colonials used quill pens to post in ledgers.

Students fill roles as servers in the front of the house and kitchen staff in back. Those who choose a baking and pastry track are bread bakers and dessert makers. A few, mostly seniors, get added experience as kitchen or bar managers. Those in charge can be identified by their toques and jackets. Quill Dining Room Manager Chris DeCloux says, “If your uniform is black and white, it means you have earned your stripes.” Able seniors are invited to share their expertise by becoming teaching assistants.

Students and the general public are invited to dine at The Quill.
Photo by susan laughlin

Each incoming student class numbers about 22, but only about 12 make it through the four-year program, according to DeCloux. Students decide at the end of their freshman year whether to pursue culinary management or baking and pastry arts for their final degree. Classes specialize in everything from charcuterie to cake decoration, depending on the desired track, with real-world experience at The Quill and outside internships. Sophomores learn the front end of the business by being servers while upper classmen take their training to the kitchen where they rotate through positions of potager (soup maker), saucier (sauce maker), poissonnier (fish prep), chef tournant (roving assistant), garde manger (cold food prep), grillardin entremétier (grilled entrée cook) and legumier (vegetable dish prep). Finally, seniors may get a chance to be in management positions at The Quill.

The alumni from SNHU includes Corey Fletcher, executive chef of the Granite Restaurant & Bar at The Centennial; Kristy Stephens Ammann, owner of Butter's Fine Food and Wine in Concord; Chef Joe Drift of 11Eleven Bistro in Manchester and Aimee Paradise of MT's Local Kitchen & Wine Bar in Nashua. Additionally, Liz White, head cake decorator for the Cake Boss Buddy Valastro, adds to the roster.

This relatively small culinary school has made a big impact on the dining scene here and beyond. Chef Corey Fletcher adds, “The culinary program at SNHU continues to grow with the changing needs of the culinary industry with a blend of real-world culinary exposure and small class sizes that allow the students an in-depth, hands-on experience in the industry.”

The five-course dinner starts with a beautifully presented degustation table. Diners are invited to select from a table of charcuterie with possibly a lobster pâté, nice cheeses, oysters, mousses and a variety of marinated salads. This would almost be enough  to eat along with a student-baked basket of bread, but there is more.

Dinner service starts with a sophomore taking your order. You can bring your own wine, but the bar service includes a number of martinis, mostly sweet, and a short-but-nice selection of affordable wines, available by the glass or bottle. There are a number of popular bottled beers including Guinness, and also two seasonal selections on tap, with one being local/regional, according to the bar manager, senior Nick Srybny.

Appetizers on the classical cuisine menu get interesting. Escargot with sauce Bourguignonne and frog legs with a lemon caper cream are just the start. Two choices for the second course include salade frisée with bacon lardons and an arugula/bib salad with fine herbs, both nicely dressed with a not-too-sweet vinaigrette. The also-French-inspired entrées for the evening include a lamb noisette with veal sweetbreads, monk and tuna bouillabaisse and salmon filet au beurre rouge. A rather ambitious menu — it must keep instructors and students alike hopping in the kitchen. This classical French menu is repeated at least 12 times during the spring semester, January through April.

During the academic year, instructors take the students through a veritable global tour of cuisine, from French, Eastern European, Northern European, Far, Near and Middle East, Iberian and Latin. International showcases are offered  on the dinner menu periodically. Fine tuning classes include a charcuterie lab where students learn to make sausages and pâtés, and a mixology class for experience behind the bar. Pastry students offer a bread CSA and provide the bread selections for dinner and lunch as well as the wondrous desserts offered as the last course of the evening meal.

Pear and apple Bavarian cream on caramel pedestal
Photo by susan laughlin

The desserts can be previewed at the front of the restaurant where students are assembling and putting the final touches on their creations as a selection is ordered. The pastry students, headed by Chef Vicki Connell, are truly working their art with spun-sugar superstructures that look like something Lady Gaga would wear. As a heads-up, it might be smart to order early as a particularly attractive dish like the mascarpone cheesecake with lemon verbena panna cotta may run out.

SNHU offers both an associate degree in baking and pastry arts and a BS in culinary management. Baking and cooking certificates are also offered for those who do not want to enroll full-time. The school also offers catering services in one or more of their salons onsite, yet another opportunity for students to get real-world experience. “We do bridal showers, corporate meetings and banquets on Friday and Saturday evenings. Everything except wedding receptions. We just can't deal with brides,” says DeCloux.

April is a great time to visit The Quill. Not only are the students at the apogee of their learning curve, but special dining opportunities include "senior showcases," where graduating students are challenged to offer sit-down or station-dining service of their own inspiration.

Categories: Features