Four-star foods: Q and A with Brian Knirk on Oak Cafe’s gold rating

The Oak Cafe, a student-run cafe on the ARC campus, was given a four-star rating by The Sacramento Bee in late September. (Photo by Stephanie Lee)

The Oak Café, American River College’s student-run restaurant, received a four-star rating this past September from Allen Pierleoni, food critic for the Sacramento Bee.
“What comes from its kitchen is as good as the fare at many high-end dining spots,” wrote Pierleoni. “That’s saying a lot, but it’s true.”
The Oak Café is part of ARC’s culinary arts & hospitality management program that takes 18 months to complete and includes a semester of working in the Oak Café. Classes run six days a week including Saturdays and focuses on business training and hands-on cooking skills.
Around 400 students are part of the program this semester, said Brian Knirk, department chair of the culinary arts and hospitality management program. The Current sat down with Knirk about the article and recognition the Café received.

The Current: What were the students’ and faculty’s reaction to the story?
Knirk: Both the faculty and the students are pleased with the article. This is the third consecutive four-star rating the Oak Café has received from the Sacramento Bee, which speaks to the high level of training and consistency provided by the staff and the dedication and hard work of the students.

Pierleoni mentions that Food Network star chef Guy Fieri has attended ARC.
Guy Fieri is a friend of mine. We worked together before he became famous with the California Restaurant Association, where he was a board member on the educational foundation. Guy says that he took General Ed classes here prior to moving to Nevada where he earned his degree.

ARC has a bit of history appearing on “Good Day Sacramento’s” Brown Bag Throwdown. How did our student fare?
Our students do not typically participate in the Brown Bag event, but rather we provide the kitchen in which the competition is hosted. Tina (Macuha), one of the new people on “Good Day,” has taken pastry classes with us, which is how the connection with “Good Day” began.
What’s the mood in the department like now, having this much recognition?
We are always proud of our students, their successes and always trying to improve what we do.
Who and what make the program such a success that you guys get this much positive recognition?
ARC’s culinary program is recognized by the state chancellor’s office, as well as local chefs, as providing outstanding real world training for our students who do go on to get jobs in the industry. Local chefs hire our graduates because they are prepared to work in real kitchens. A great deal of that success is built on the fact that all of our faculty have extensive experience running very successful restaurants prior to coming to teach.
Pierleoni mentions that the department has plans to grow the café next year. Is the department and students abuzz and giddy with anticipation?
Yes, that’s a great way to describe it. We hope to break ground on our new building this summer.
Is there anything that you personally, or on behalf of the department, have to say to ARC students and staff?
I have said and continue to express my gratitude for their dedication and hard work, which clearly pays off when viewed by the public and the great reviews we continue to receive.

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