Willow Ridge Restaurant is serving the World on Wednesdays.
Second-year Iowa Central Community College culinary students are running the restaurant as though it was their own, and preparing and serving a menu of international foods to its paying customers.
"This is basically an opportunity for students to run their own business for one day a week," Chef Michael Hurst, Iowa Central instructor, said. "Hence, World on Wednesdays."
-Messenger photo by Brandon L. Summers
Chef Michael Hirst, Iowa Central instructor, comments on the openers made by his second-year culinary students at college-owned Willow Ridge Golf Club, where the class is conducting World on Wednesdays. Students Patti Stewart, left, and Belinda Smith-Clark, right, take note.
Fort Dodgers are given the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of the students' labors.
"We're doing a different country every three weeks," Hirst said. "This is the third week of Spanish cuisine on a Wednesday. And we start an Italian cuisine next Wednesday."
The students are tasked with everything from preparing the dishes to cleaning silverware, vacuuming the floors, and even cleaning the toilets, the same chores they would have at their own restaurant, Hirst said Wednesday.
"And then, hopefully, customers come to the door and some of them get to cook, some of them get to serve, open wine, talk about the menu, describe the food," he said. "We've got 26 people booked tonight."
The cuisine is not expensive, Hirst said.
"Our food is very much about half the price of what they pay in Des Moines, a third the price of what they pay in Chicago," he said. "Our clam dish on this menu, a Spanish menu, is probably a $50 dish in Chicago. We're doing it for $14."
Willow Ridge is a real-life learning venue for the students, Hirst said, calling it "the best experience you could want."
"You can't teach this out of a book," he said. "We make mistakes, they get better. Sometimes, we're perfect. But very, very rarely are we perfect."
While students from Iowa Central's culinary department have prepared food at the college-owned golf club before, this is the first year for World on Wednesdays, Hirst said.
"We did international dinners previously, on Tuesday night, because we look after a real business here," he said. "Because it's a golf club, it's very hard to combine the two while the golf season's on, because our members are important."
The hands-on experience doesn't stop on Wednesday, as the students' work continues throughout the entire week.
"We finish tonight and as of tomorrow it's full steam ahead," Hirst said. "Thursday, Friday, and then Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday next week, we're making the entire Italian menu, desserts, ice creams, and then we'll bring stuff up here next week and deliver it to our customers."
He added, "(The students) haven't seen the menu yet so they're panicking. It's fun. It's a good panic."
The students, for the most part, enjoy the firsthand restaurant experience, Hirst said.
"There's a lot of nerves when they come into this, because it's real people they're serving who are handing over real money," he said. "I think, once they've gotten used to it, yes, they do enjoy it. And they realize that they can make mistakes and the restaurant isn't going to close. I encourage them to learn everything, from the good, the bad and the ugly side of the business."
One thing students don't enjoy, though, is cleaning the toilets, Hirst said.
"But it's part of their job," he said. "Someone has to, and restaurant managers do it better than everyone else. That's why they become managers. I was the head chef of my own restaurant for 10 years and I cleaned the toilets every morning, because I spent $20,000 on the best-looking toilets available to my customers. I took pride in it where others didn't."
He added, "It's not all glamour, in our industry."