Ah, back to the days of college, where eating in student-run cafeterias necessitated a gargantuan leap of faith. I remember the tales well—cooks who came out of bathrooms without a single drop of water run, wiping snot on dish rags, every manner of health violation possible happened without a single patron realizing it. I remembered to skip the green peas and overdone steak in favor of boxed Rice Krispies for dinner. I shudder to think I’d ever step foot in a university cafeteria again. Until now.
The Art Institute of the Inland Empire runs its own student cafeteria, but it’s different with the white tablecloths, white linen napkins, settings done up so proper, elegant and classy that one easily pegs the place as one of those fine-dining establishments. The oddity becomes the diners themselves, dressed almost too casually in jeans and t-shirts, a few with polos and khakis, skirts, and others more risqué in tank tops and shorts. The waiters and waitresses are formal and accommodating. Sure, learning their way around, but friendly and giving the customers their due. And even there it’s only a couple of times per week, as Seasons is only open on Tuesday and Wednesday—needless to say, reservations are strongly encouraged.
So, Seasons is not the typical student-run cafeteria. In fact, it’s the teaching kitchen for the Art Institute’s International Culinary School, a place where future chefs hone their skills on willing test subjects before setting foot into real world Chefdom, but don’t let that deter you from lunching here. A generous sized Salad Niçoise with seared ahi is a measly $6.95, while a burger (actual Sirloin, peoples!) loaded with the garden will set you back only eight bucks. The entrées are a steal at $10.95—the Matambre con Chimichurri (roulade of beef and veggies) and a Maple Salmon served with a ginger and berry cream sauce. In fact, I discovered that the restaurant name was selected in part due to the seasonal ingredients used in the preparation of the food. While a late lunch is served at present, other academic quarters feature a four-course prix fixe dinner for less than $40 per person.
Entertainment is provided through the large glass window that stands between the kitchen and dining room, where students in chef’s whites and checked pants calmly prep and cook the meals under the vigilant eye of the hands-off class Czar—Master Chef Instructor himself.
The Academic Director of the Culinary Program, Chef Eyad Joseph, states that no food has ever gone out raw or uncooked, and that while the service and food prep may be a bit slow, customers ultimately understand that these are indeed students—albeit skilled and talented ones—who’re learning their way around the kitchen. Cleanliness and sanitation are a huge emphasis of the curriculum.
While the offerings may be scant and the operating hours few, Seasons is definitely worth sampling. Who knows, maybe you’ll gain the bragging rights for eating the first dishes ever prepared by a future Iron Chef.
Seasons Restaurant at the Art Institute of California – Inland Empire, 630 E. Brier Street, San Bernardino, (909) 915.2100. Lunch for two, around $20. Open Tuesday and Wednesday only, 1:30–3:30PM. AE, MC, V