Restaurant University in Merida
Restaurante La Casa Azul is the brain child of Deysi Diaz , Shirley López, Suleimy Rios, Abril Rodríguez and Estaban Romero (pictured to the right). They are five students out of a class of eighteen who are studying hospitality at the Swiss-based Glion Institute of Higher Education located on the campus of Universidad del Valle de Mexico. Each year for the last six years, the program has held a contest for restaurant ideas. The group of students with the winning idea has the privilege and added experience of seeing their idea brought to life. This year, that idea will come alive as Restaurante La Casa Azul.
Hospitality Training in Merida
The Hospitality course at U.V.M. is a nine semester B.A. degree program. For the last four years, Chef Gregory Fryer has taught the Food and Beverage portion of the Hospitality program. In the first semester of this program, students learn culinary skills, safe food practices, menu creation, costing, budgeting, marketing and human resources. At same time they are also studying English and French. By the end of the first semester, the students present restaurant proposals and the winning concept is implemented in second semester when the students get the opportunity to operate a restaurant of their creation. La Casa Azul, a tribute to Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, is the restaurant concept that will be produced beginning October 2014.
During the operation of the restaurant, the students learn the tools needed for cost controls, managing inventories, ordering and receiving, communication, staff motivation, marketing and great customer service. They also learn how to create Profit and Loss Statements and then analyze the data. Once the restaurant closes, the students must use what they learned for new strategy development in future classes.
Though there are many tourism degrees and cooking classes taught in Merida, this is the only program of its kind that teaches real world restaurant management skills. It is part of the Food and Beverage Program, a Glion program whose schools operate throughout Europe and Latin America. In fact, the Glion program is rated as one of the top three Hospitality programs in the world. In addition to the Food & Beverage classes, the students also have professors in Marketing, Human Resources, Culinary Skills, Room Division for Hotels, Accounting and English. In the photo to the right, Chef Denise Ordonez, executive chef at U.V.M., is seated in the middle.
On The Job Training
This fall, at La Casa Azul, the menu is internationally themed, influenced by Mexican flavors and products. The dining room is small, with only 40 seats, but it is the perfect size for the students to manage. The service is casual but professional, and the restaurant will be fully operated by the students. Though only one concept can win the competition, once the winner is chosen, all the students in that class work on the winning project.
Each student spends time in the kitchen, as a server, a bartender, a host, the manager, as well as a prep cook and a dishwasher. All the students rotate positions over the course of the four weeks that the restaurant is open. Chef Gregory Fryer, the Food and Beverage teacher at U.V.M., helps guide the students through their operation but lets the students learn from their challenges. “I do not do it for them; they need to learn for themselves. Some of the best learning comes from making mistakes. I encourage them to learn, and then move on to the next challenge.”
Open to the Public
The restaurant will be open to the public, and reservations are not required. There will be both breakfast and lunch items, some of which are pictured here. The menus are limited but varied. Each semester the concept and menu is a little different, depending on what the students come up with. Prices are reasonable since most of the customers are other students on campus.
Want to try something new? Have a little adventure and support these students? La Casa Azul will open October 13, 2014 and run until November 7, 2014. The restaurant will be open Monday through Friday, from 8 AM to 4 PM. If you want to stay informed about this restaurant adventure, you can follow it at this Facebook page for La Casa Azul.
The University del Valle de Mexico is also the host campus to the Kendall College Program, a Chicago-based culinary arts school. Those students will also be operating bistros and restaurants in the coming semesters, so there are more good things to look forward to in the future from both the Glion and Kendall programs at the U.V.M. campus in Merida. And stay tuned to Yucatan Living, because we will let you know about them here!