Oak Cafe Grows Up

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Go big. That’s what planners had in mind when they envisioned a sparkling new facility for American River College’s popular culinary arts program. And go big they did. 

The new 20,000-square-foot site—with three laboratory kitchens, two lecture classrooms, a theater-style demonstration kitchen, a candy laboratory and a retail bakery—is designed to give the program’s 300-plus full-time students “an outstanding culinary education at a community-college price,” says Brian Knirk, chair of ARC’s culinary arts and hospitality department. 

The sprawling new space means that aspiring chefs can practice cooking in the large volumes called for in a commercial kitchen— something they couldn’t do in the old facility. “The process of making a dozen scones, for example, is different than making 100,” explains Knirk. “In the industry, they will be working in larger volumes, which we can now teach.” 

The college’s relaunched Oak Cafe, with its sunny new 70-seat dining room smartly outfitted with muted colors and oversized pendant lights, is where students learn the ropes of running a high-end restaurant, from menu planning to cooking to service. It’s refined enough that a diner could forget it’s a learning environment. “The ambience is no longer a dark community-college classroom, but a true four-star dining room,” says Knirk. 

ARC has been turning out talent for years, with graduates of the program going on to work in some of Sacramento’s most highly regarded kitchens, including Ella and The Waterboy. The upgraded digs will no doubt help launch a new generation of talent. “ARC has always had an outstanding reputation,” says Knirk. “This facility makes it obvious that our passion for teaching and business is supported by the environment in which students now learn.”