A visit to the Casola Dining Room at SCCC (Schenectady County Community College)

SCCC table setting

Welcome to Casola Dining Room at SCCC

There are two things that the Casola Dining Room has in common with the legendary Chez Panisse in Berkeley. First, you have to call exactly two weeks in advance of your desired dining date and time to have any hope of a reservation. And second, if you do score a table, you are going to have an excellent meal.

Salad Nicoise

First course in the Provence themed menu: Salad Nicoise

Casola Dining Room is the showcase of Schenectady County Community College’s Culinary Arts Program. Students who have completed three foundation courses work together on a menu that is American Regional in the fall, International in the spring. (It changes every week, but those are the overarching themes.)

There are two seatings at lunch and two at dinner and you will get attentive service in a white-tablecloth setting as you enjoy a carefully prepared appetizer, entrée and dessert for the grand sum of $16 (plus a scholarship surcharge at dinner). No tax, no tipping (though you can, and should, leave something extra which goes to the program) and you can bring alcoholic beverages for a modest corkage fee.

Boullilabaise

Boullilabaise

SCCC is a treasure in Upstate New York that has spawned countless chefs and front-of-house folks who are broadly distributed throughout a region filled with eateries. Because of the known quality and work ethic of its graduates, some of the best establishments make a practice of focusing their hiring on SCCC and those grads, in turn, hire their fellow students. Between 550 and 650 students are in attendance at any given time, pursuing a two-year associate’s degree path that can lead them to hospitality or casino management as well as culinary arts. If you attend full time, the entire two years will cost less than $7000. That’s a ridiculous bargain.

Almond Pear Tart

Almond Pear Tart (look closely for some spun sugar latticework)

My server mentioned she was a first year student which caused me to ask Instructor Jay Larkin (a hotel management specialist whose classes are always full) about prerequisites for front-of-house staff. He had a great response which I’ll share in full:

For the service class there are no prerequisites and this is both a challenge and a blessing. The challenges come in the form of nervousness on the part of the student serving the guest for the first time as it truly can be the first time they have experienced fine dining service as a server or even as a guest. The blessing comes by way of no preformed habits to modify in service techniques. Many “seasoned” professionals have come through the program only to find their skills are not as well honed as once thought. We instruct at a high level of service to make any service thereafter easier to understand.

I think that gives you a good idea of why this program is so special and so successful. If you’re planning a visit to Upstate New York, consider putting Casola Dining Room on your itinerary. Be sure to check schedule because they only serve during school semesters. And don’t fail to call exactly 2 weeks in advance.

For more on the Casola Dining Room and access to their current, check here. For reservations call (518) 381-1391. (There is an OpenTable link on the web page but it doesn’t seem to work.) And if you know someone who is ready to consider a career in cooking or hospitality, send them to the SCCC Culinary home page.  (Remind them if you learn to cook for a living, you’ll likely always be able to find a job, and you’ll likely never go hungry.)

P.S. There are students of all ages at CCC including lots of mid-life career changers. Jay and Dean of Students David Brough and Supervising Instructor
Rocco Verrigni told me about one student who completed the curriculum while still in high school, and another who got her certification at age 72 and is now pastry chef at one of Albany’s most prestigious restaurants. So no excuses. Come on down!

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4 Responses to A visit to the Casola Dining Room at SCCC (Schenectady County Community College)

  1. Sean says:

    Is your name Otis M. from Saratoga Springs? According to yelp, it looks like you’ve actually been to some of the places people recommended for the All Over Albany General Tso question, even going so far as to say about one “If I lived within 20 miles of this place it would become my go-to for Chinese to go.” The part that I find the funniest is that you posted a picture of General Tso Shrimp!!! So maybe think twice before “raining on people’s parades” and try to be a little less hypocritical. If you don’t feel like adding something positive to the discussion, just sit that one out.

  2. Thanks Sean. I didn’t want to ignore your comment, but I hope you’ll take the conversation over to All over Albany or Yelp, which would be more appropriate. Anybody want to talk about SCCC and its culinary program?

  3. Evan Weissman says:

    I think this is an incredible post and I thank you for writing it. I am a graduate of the Culinary program and SCCC and now run an entire restaurant at 25. The tools that this school gave me to succeed truly made me who I am today and I am truly grateful.

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