Lane introduces Al Fresco dining venue

Penny Scott

Located at the Learning Garden is Lane’s new Al Fresco dining venue, which provides informal dining for Eugene residents. Yearly themed events are planned for each summer and, depending on community response, may extend to more events in the late spring and early fall.

From building the tables, designing the outdoor eating area, growing some of the ingredients, to creating and serving the cuisine, Al Fresco is a student project. Spearheaded by the Center for Meeting and Learning, this multi-department project was first conceived in March 2014.

The inaugural fundraising event held on Wednesday, August 20 themed “Beer and Bounty” attracted over 100 guests. The events are designed to be self-sustaining and according to organizers will not cost the college anything. The first event even made a small profit.

Al Fresco showcases the talents of Lane students and provides them with hands-on experience in event planning, marketing, off-site catering, event management and public relations. Events also give students exposure to local businesses, making it easier for them to be hired locally.

“My passion is food,” Meagan Howell, second year culinary arts student said. “Food can bring people together. It can bring comfort and happiness.”

Students are encouraged to be creative and explore different food combinations.

“The recipe is a guideline,” Howell said. “It’s about being creative and improvising with what you have and working with flavors that compliment each other. I’ll be told to make, let’s say, a vinaigrette of my choice and then I’m asked to explain why I chose the ingredients.”

Culinary arts students enjoy seeing the pleasure they bring to people through their food creations.

“I love helping people discover food – how to eat and how to shop,”second year culinary arts student, Nanette McGie said.

A Diesel Technology student and a Fabrication/Welding student, along with students in the Learning Garden, prepared the site. Construction Technology students designed the tables and constructed the prototype. Culinary Arts students created the recipes and will prepare the food for future events and Hospitality Management students will serve the guests.

“We thought this would be a great way to showcase the many talents of our students,” Pat O’Connor, Division Dean advanced Technology, Interim Division Dean, Conference and Culinary Services said. “It gives the students practical experience. They get to see what it’s like in the real world.”

The cuisine created by the students is accentuated by various beers supplied by the Ninkasi Brewing Company. Students visited the brewery where they learned the ingredients and recipes of different beers. They were taught which beers would best compliment the dishes they created.

“Conscious pairing of food with beer provides creations that are truly remarkable,” O’Connor said. “Ninkasi Brewing Company has really made this event possible. Without them we wouldn’t have been able to do this.”

Ninkasi provided an in-kind beer gift valued at $2,000 for use in cooking and baking of menu items for the innaugural event. Beer sold at the bar was purchased by the Center for Meeting and Learning.

Organizers trust that successful events will encourage donations to the college. Donors to Lane provide funding, scholarships and sometimes equipment. Financial donations would help with equipment upgrades, according to organizers, which would further enhance the credibility of the program.

All proceeds from Al Fresco dining events support the Learning Garden, student-to-community engagement opportunities and technology upgrades in the Center for Meeting and Learning. Upgrading the analog media equipment is a priority. Organizers believe the upgrade would make the center more attractive to outside business and would streamline technical support for future college events.