Learning, photographing a restaurant’s inner workings

Students drafted a sample seating plan at Capstone Kitchen.

Students drafted a sample seating plan at Capstone Kitchen. Photo by Don Fleming.

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Remember the last time you made lunch reservations, arrived at the restaurant and the hostess said to the waiter, “Take this party to table number six.” Did you find yourself counting the tables to determine what numbers the other tables might be?

This winter quarter in the Menu Planning Class taught by Chefs Dan Thiessen and Robin Leventhal, the senior student chefs have been learning the fundamentals of managing a restaurant, ‘The Capstone Kitchen’ at the Wine Country Culinary Institute.

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Mikaela Hensel is about to serve spring rolls.

Now if you have not heard of this restaurant it is because it is a converted classroom inside the Institute of Enology and Viticulture building, and has been operational only for lunch, three days a week and only for five weeks. The class, which has been designed by Thiessen, the director, polishes the student chefs with ‘hands-on’ participation on all aspects of managing a real restaurant.

Every student must participate in taking reservations, checking in guests, proper table-setting etiquette, learning the art of seating guests, participating in menu planning and pricing, selecting and ordering food, cooking (an array of appetizers, soups, salads, entrees, and deserts), final plating and styling, and washing the dishes and proper kitchen cleanup techniques.

Participating and photographing this class was a challenge for me. I was used to the commercial teaching kitchen on the lower campus (Titus Creek Cafe), where there is plenty of room to maneuver between the students. I was used to setting by Nikon D7000 to ISO1600 with a 18-300mm lens, and setting the white balance setting to fluorescent could capture almost every food preparation scene.

The Capstone Kitchen also has fluorescent lighting, but with mixed sunlight light coming in from the windows on the East side of the kitchen. Now my 1600 ISO jumped to 2000 ISO just to capture the internal kitchen scenes, and then I quickly adjusted to ISO 800 when facing the windows so as not have all the highlights blowout (windows all turning white).

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Students prepare and plate food in the kitchen.

To add a little more photographic complexity this kitchen has heating lamps, to keep the final food plates warm, and these lights can create an interesting light streaking effect across the stainless steel counter top. I have found that when photographing across stainless steel counters you can reduce the glare by using a circular polarizing HD filter.

Capturing the scenes of the Capstone Kitchen was challenging because when the guests began to arrive there was very little setup time and my camera had to be preset.

I was constantly moving the mode dial from shutter setting 250 to remove any blurring to Aperture F-11 to bring everything in the scene into focus. I have found in food photography that to make the food look appetizing an aperture setting of F-4 will produce sharp imagery closest to the edge of the plate and then blur the trailing edge of the scene.

The only way to describe the inner workings of a restaurant is it is very intense, incredibly fast-paced, and produces a mixed array of colors and wonderful aromas.

There is no question that at the end of this quarter, these student chefs will be well- prepared to enter the marketplace.

Don Fleming can be reached at don512@me.com.

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