April 5, 2006 | By: Carol Lea Spence
LEXINGTON, KY.

“When you cut, you need to cut much, much closer. You’re losing too much product.”

“That table needs to turn that way just a hair. Your eye has to flow across the room.”

 “Make sure you peel those tomatoes.”

“How do those biscuits taste? I want to taste them.”

Following Maggie Cook-Newell through the kitchens of the Lemon Tree, the University of Kentucky School of Human Environmental Sciences’ student-run restaurant, is like being pulled along by the slipstream of a supersonic jet. All around her, the 17 students enrolled in the Thursday lab of her quantity food production course are busy putting the finishing touches on that day’s African menu.

“They find in these classes that I’m all over them from the minute they get in there,” she said. In rapid-fire succession Cook-Newell, a nutrition and food science instructor, demonstrates her technique. “‘Why are you doing this? Why aren’t you doing this? Think about this. What’s the reason for this? Why is that not working? Did you do this? No. Why not?’ I ask all these questions and they go, ‘You make us nervous.’ I say, ‘Good, because in the real world you’re not going to be asked those questions.’” And it’s for the real world that Cook-Newell is determined to prepare her students.

The 50-seat Lemon Tree restaurant is a decades-long campus tradition, offering a reasonably priced upscale dining experience twice a week. Every position in the facility is manned by students, from front-of-house positions such as servers and hosts to back-of-house responsibilities, including meal preparation and cleanup. Preparation is paramount in the hospitality business and Cook-Newell’s students are taught all the aspects of the industry.

“This class is not to me just about cooking or serving,” said Mahima Pandey, a senior hospitality management and tourism major. “It has to do a lot with teamwork, about how to evaluate your costs, your ordering, your purchasing, nutrition analysis. It’s not just cooking and serving. It has a lot of time management, safety and sanitation (information).”

The on-site restaurant makes the UK program unique, said Cook-Newell. “The really neat thing about this class is that we have a lot of freedom with what we plan, as long as we can get the items. We try to be very culturally diverse. We did a Brazilian theme. We’ve done a Japanese theme. We did a Middle Eastern theme.”

Haley Gilbert is a senior hospitality management and tourism major enrolled in Cook-Newell’s class. “I’m a pretty adventurous eater. I’ll try anything. And I’ve tried a lot of stuff this semester I’ve never even heard of before, so it’s really interesting how internationally focused our menus have been.”

Students also plan special holiday menus for St. Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Kentucky Derby and Thanksgiving, among others. These occasions can require additional space and preparation time. It is not unusual for the students to seat 150 patrons for the Thanksgiving meal.

Cook-Newell views the Lemon Tree as not only a place to train future dieticians and hospitality industry employees, but also the dining public. “We’re teaching the public as well as the student how you go out to eat and enjoy a nice culinary experience. We tell people, don’t come in here and have a working lunch. You can work after lunch. When you come in here you’re going to have a delightful lunch,” she said. “We’ve been told by our guests that they have been taught through this class how to go out and expect a nice meal. What to expect from the server. What to expect from the restaurant. How they should be served. How it should be done.”

Liz Marshall, a senior dietetics and food science major, has not only learned the ins-and-outs of restaurant management from her Lemon Tree experience, she has also learned a bit about herself.

“It really pushes you to the edge and then somehow at the end of the day you can’t believe what you just did and it feels so good,” she said.

To Cook-Newell, continuing the Lemon Tree’s long tradition of teaching students and serving loyal guests boils down to one thing.

“This is all about presentation.”

Contact: 

Margaret Cook-Newell, (859) 257-1661