Every couple of months, The Looking Glass Restaurant celebrates its grand opening. No, it’s not a marketing ploy or the telltale signs of frequent ownership changes.
It’s actually the carefully laid out plans and scheduling of an educational, student-run restaurant that opens and closes with each passing semester.
A part of the Polytech Adult Education culinary program, The Looking Glass Restaurant is a practical, hands-on facility offering inventive recipes, fresh, homemade food, and a distinctive dining experience that benefits both patrons and staff.
Chef instructor Shelly Dillon said that while the program emphasizes education, the restaurant allows that education to be put into practice.
“The mission is education but it’s also for the students to have hands-on, practical experience,” Dillon said. “So, when they leave here and graduate this program, they go out with their certificates, they also actually have the experience of running a restaurant and conference facility.”
The program also emphasizes creativity and inventiveness. Every semester, Dillon tells her students that they’ll find no better test kitchen than the one they have a Polytech. She fosters creativity by encouraging the students to bring in recipes and do different things to see what works and what doesn’t.
“It’s fun to see what they bring in and this particular class is really interested in dessert,” Dillon said. “Recently, we took a pound cake recipe that called for sour cream and divided the class up to try the recipe out two different ways. One, we substituted lemon yogurt for the sour cream and lemon juice for the vanilla. Then, we did it a third time with vanilla yogurt and just got creative with it.”
Dillon’s efforts seem to be working and students seem to be thriving with so much experience at their fingertips.
Student Rosie Anderson said that she’s always loved to cook and it was just something she wanted to be more educated about.
“This is something new for me, a new career in life and it all excites me,” Anderson said. “It’s been the best experience to just be able to cook, to learn how to work the different machines, and to try to different types of food. Learning about the designer sandwiches has also been really enlightening because I was not accustomed to making them.”
Anderson is not alone. Students in the program have various backgrounds and skill levels.
“We have all different ages, all different people, from 18 to 60,” Dillon said.
Student Veronica Sepulveda moved to Delaware from Puerto Rico with her boyfriend. She has a bachelor’s degree in marketing but when she moved, she decided she wanted to combine her degree with the cooking skills that would allow her to open a catering business.
“My mom used to have a little cafeteria in Puerto Rico so I, maybe, want to open a catering business or something in the future,” Sepulveda said. “This gives me a real background in the kitchen.”
Additionally, Polytech Superintendent Deborah Zych pointed out that labor statistics in Kent County show a strong support of culinary arts training.
“Various establishments in Kent County are really supporting the industry,” Zych said.
The public is welcome to the restaurant that is open most days, Monday through Friday, from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. but the restaurant also serves a lot of the faculty and teachers of Polytech.
Zych recently dined at The Looking Glass with Director of Adult Education Betsy Jones and her husband, Electrical Trades teacher Ted Jones. All three were adamant that the student training aspect shouldn’t keep people away. As a matter of fact, they pointed out that dining at the student-run facility is a great way to support local business while also supporting people who are trying to get a better life through education.
Chef instructor Dillon agrees.
“It means a lot to know that you can take people who are looking for something, who've been dissatisfied for a long time, can't figure out what they want to do or maybe they've been unemployed and teach them a skill that helps them,” Dillon said. “They can leave this program and become productive and have a reason to get up in the morning.”