Student-run fine dining at Durham College's 'Bistro Max'

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Last month, I was invited to experience one of Durham College’s most exciting accomplishments to date: an innovative teaching restaurant known as Bistro Max. Jointly run by the Hospitality Management and Culinary Skills Programme, this fine dining restaurant gives students hands-on experience in creating a luxurious environment in an unconventional setting. It’s currently run out of a local high school, Maxwell Heights Secondary, but you wouldn’t know it. A classroom with an adjacent kitchen has been remarkably transformed with impeccably set tables, silverware, polite servers, tantalizing scents from the kitchen and warm mood lighting. It’s easy to entirely forget the daytime function of the room.

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The food, likewise, is a long way from what is traditionally served and eaten in high schools: Bistro Max serves a prix fixe menu, providing a choice between three carefully plated and freshly prepared appetizers, entrees, and desserts. I was gratified to see local, seasonal foods take centre stage on the tasteful menu. I enjoyed a warm, Asian-inspired spinach salad, a colourful local beet risotto, and a decadent crepe with fried bananas and cream (ok, the bananas weren’t local). The only reminder of the unusual location is the lack of a liquor license!

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While already an impressive program in its own right, Bistro Max is only an appetizer for what is to come. A new 30,000 square-foot building, currently under construction, will be home to Bistro Max in the future. This building represents the third and final stage of Durham College’s Whitby Campus Development Project. The new space will feature a full teaching restaurant and lounge, environmentally-friendly design, and a greenhouse to teach would-be restaurateurs from seed to plate. David Chambers, President of the Durham College Foundation, shared that the College is keenly interested in working with local producers in the Durham Region and introducing students to the ever-growing world of fresh, local food.

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It’s awesome to see programs like Bistro Max take off, as they support local food and farmers in their own unique way. And it’s not the only one – hospitals,daycares and your favourite restaurant are all sourcing close to home. What’s even more uplifting is that with Ontario’s Greenbelt protecting 1,100,000 acres of farmland, this local food fad is not going away.

 

Katie Sandwell, Program Assistant for Ontariofresh.ca, a new online marketplace for growers, distributors and buyers of fresh, local food.

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