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Students at Lanier Career Academy swap their school books for cookbooks
Lanier Charter Career Academy culinary student Esbeydi Arroyo carves a watermelon in the kitchen of The Bistro at the Oaks. The Bistro provides students with kitchen experience while giving foodies a bargain on fine dinning.

The Bistro at the Oaks

When: Open 11a.m.-12: 30 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, opening day is this Friday

More info: Reservations can be made by e-mailing or by calling 770-532-3161

Today's poor economy has closed countless businesses and left many with little change in their pockets after bills are paid and mouths are fed.

Though economists predict progress this year, it can be discouraging to drive by what used to be a favorite restaurant, and is now merely an empty building with a "for lease" sign taped to the door.

One of the corporations struggling most with the economic decline seems to be local school systems.

With teacher pay cuts, furlough days and an impossible budget, it would be expected the students' education would suffer; however, it is quite the opposite.

Lanier Charter Career Academy offers many classes unlike those found in everyday high schools. One class in particular, culinary arts, has found a way to creatively educate our children while providing a new lunch spot for the local community.

The Bistro at the Oaks is a restaurant where LCCA students are the chefs and assignments are not on paper, but on fine china. It opens to the public on Friday, allowing everyone to savor these
A+ assignments at a low cost.

"Students in my class get to really experience what it is like to work in the kitchen of a fine dining restaurant," said Executive Chef Dara Lavallee, LCCA's culinary arts 1 and 2 instructor. "After this class, they will have a good idea about whether or not they want to work in food service."

The Bistro at the Oaks has a fine dining setting and is located within The Oaks at Lanier Charter Career Academy.

"The food is very upscale, like the food you would find in a restaurant like Luna's or 2 Dog Café," Lavallee said.

While The Bistro has a fine dining atmosphere and serves a four-course menu for lunch, it is affordable. For only $7, patrons can enjoy an appetizer, entrée, fresh bread and petit dessert.

"Everything is made on site and from scratch. We do not use any mixes or premade foods. We use the freshest, in-season produce," Lavallee said. "Our menu changes weekly according to what the students are learning."

The Bistro runs on student energy - they cook and provide dinner service for patrons.

"Ninety-five percent of the cooking is done by students. I usually make the sauces," Lavallee said.

At such a low price, The Bistro's luxurious meals are clearly for educational purposes only.

"We are nonprofit of course; the money goes back into the program so we can buy food and supplies for instruction," said Lavallee.

After 16 years of instructing, Lavallee discovered that teaching students how to cook breads, desserts and pastas are her favorite.

A normal day in Culinary Arts is unlike any other. Instead of starting with a textbook, students learn through demonstration.

"I teach the advanced students for the most part, though I do have some introductory students," she said. "For my class, I usually demonstrate a new dish or technique and then have the students make it."

Just as she loves teaching it, Lavallee's students love taking her class.

"Mrs. Lavallee is a great teacher," said Leticia Caballero, a freshman from Chestatee High School. "I have had her since I was in sixth grade, when she was at the middle school. She is my favorite teacher every year."

Caballero is in Lavallee's culinary arts 1 and 2 classes.

"My favorite part of this class is when people tell us how delicious and great our food is," she said.

While cooking classes are fun, they also help prepare young adults for their future after high school.

"These classes are great. If you like to cook, you should join," said Caballero "I think taking classes like this helps you decide on a career - they give you a peek at your future."

Sophomore Kasey Rosser, a student taking the same classes, agrees.

"I think it is important for high school students to take these types of classes because they allow us to actually get to do what we like to do," Rosser said. "Instead of just reading about culinary arts, we actually cook and do what we learn, which means we remember and learn it much better."

Rosser's favorite part about class is getting to cook for the faculty and staff of LCCA.

"I love this class. It gives me an opportunity to express my passion for cooking," Rosser said.

Only Hall County students can take the classes, but everyone can enjoy their food.

The Bistro at the Oaks offers lunch from 11 a.m. -12:30 on Thursdays and Fridays. This Friday's menu features chicken in puff pastry or beef medallions, house salad, wild mushroom soup and their signature rosemary rolls.