Lee Mathis
Grand Junction Free Press Food Columnist

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February 28, 2013
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FOOD: Savoring our hidden gems

In the four years since I started writing this column, I have written once a year about the Colorado Culinary Academy out at Western Colorado Community College and Restaurant Chez Lena, the culinary schools student-run dining establishment.

Now, I only graduated about six years ago and the changes at the school are unbelievable! I just visited the new teaching lab and I only wish I had a kitchen station like that, both in the kitchen we use as well as in my house. Each student has their own station, complete with grill, stove, mini-fridge and more. Completely state of the art and I challenge any other culinary program in the state to match it.

Add that to the teaching staff, which is headed up by Dan Kirby, with Chef Wayne Smith and Chef Jon St. Peter, the students out there have every opportunity to follow their culinary dreams.

Chef Jon also heads up the Culinary Cooking Competition Team at the school. This year, they came in second, but as recent as a few years ago, they not only took the state completion, but also the regional and went to the nationals. Not bad for our little Grand Valley, eh?

The school also recently hosted a ProStart competition. From Dan Kirby: "On Saturday, Feb. 16, the culinary arts department hosted its 11 annual ProStart Western Slope high school culinary competition at WCCC. Aspen, Durango, Fruita Monument, Palisade, and Roaring Fork high schools competed in what was billed as a 'scrimmage' for culinary teams.

(This weekend) March 1st, these teams will all be in Denver for the state ProStart culinary conference, and have an opportunity to practice their skills in a head-to-head competition now, this will allow them to go back home and focus on the areas of their menus that need it most. The winning team in Denver will go on to represent Colorado at the nationals. "

Again... not too shabby!

I would be remiss if I did not talk a little more about Chez Lena. For those of you who have eaten there, you already know... this truly is one of the hidden gems of the Grand Valley. Serving lunch from Tuesdays through Friday through the semesters, you will have a chance to try some outstanding food, created, prepared and served by the culinary students, supervised by Chef Jon.

Check out our Facebook page (pics) for this semester's menu. I mean, Chez Lena Prix Fixe, at only $17? Pan-seared Red Bird Chicken with forest mushroom pan sauce, green chili scalloped potatoes, roasted squash, winter greens and an endive gratin for only $11?

So, enjoy what this program does; you just don't know how lucky we are to have it right here in our valley!

Lee is the founder and owner of Decadence Gourmet Cheesecakes and Catering. He can be reached via email at decadencecheesecakes@mindspring.com, on the web at www.decadencecheesecakes.com, or by calling 970-256-4688. Also, find him on the web by searching Facebook, Pinterest or by visiting Twitter (@decadenceGJ).

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The Post Independent Updated Feb 28, 2013 02:31PM Published Feb 28, 2013 02:30PM Copyright 2013 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.