by Jackie Reid Dettloff
Winter is hunker down time. Time to focus on indoor pleasures. Time to enjoy the pleasure of good eating. If you want to enjoy a first-rate meal for a bargain-rate price, I suggest you head to the downtown campus of MATC. On the sixth floor of the building at 1015 N. Sixth St., you will find the Gourmet 6 Dining Room. In operation for 50 years, this lunchtime-only restaurant is designed to serve the needs of students in the Culinary Arts Program. They get hands-on experience at bussing, waiting tables, and cooking gourmet meals while their customers get the pleasure of fine dining without paying fine dining prices. Judging from the experience I had last month, I’d say that the arrangement works very well. From first-time diners to MATC staffers who eat at Gourmet 6 three times a week to groups of retired friends who make a ritual of gathering every month to sample the exquisite menu, the restaurant was filled with people who relished the food and good service that were offered to them. Customers had nothing but praise for the work of Chef-Instructor John Reiss and his staff of students. Reiss has taught at MATC since 1987. As a 1980 graduate in the Culinary Arts, he knows the program through and through. He points with pride to the fact that over 90% of graduates find employment immediately upon completing the two year degree program. Last month Reiss was named Chef of the Year by the local chapter of the American Culinary Federation. He sees his award as recognition of the quality of the MATC program, which he describes as the premier cooking school in Wisconsin. When Reiss became manager of the Gourmet 6 Dining Room in September, he set about expanding the menu. He emphasizes American cooking with a smattering of ethnic dishes, always stressing classical cooking techniques. He makes a point of having his students prepare everything from scratch — no prefab food at the Gourmet 6. The sauces and stocks, as well as the mixed green salads and fresh bread, are all prepared in the MATC kitchens. On the day that my friends and I stopped in, we had a choice of beef, chicken, fish, pork, and vegetarian entrees. We sampled both the crawfish beignet and the quesadilla appetizers and pronounced them both to be tasty, light, and wonderfully ungreasy. The entrees came with a choice of soup or salad. Desserts come a la carte. We had to choose between a key lime tart, a chocolate bouche de Noel, and homemade gingerbread or vanilla ice cream. Again, these were all freshly prepared in the MATC kitchens. Our meals averaged $15 each, half of what they would have cost anywhere else. There are currently 130 students in the MATC program, and the list of alumni reads like a Who’s Who of the Milwaukee culinary scene. Graduates include owners or head chefs at Bartolotta’s, Scotty’s Crab House, Sol Fire, and Tess on the eastside and Cafe Lulu in Bay View. Reiss talks about eating out at restaurants throughout metropolitan Milwaukee and finding that his food has been prepared by former MATC students. That is one of the rewards of his job. Another is the satisfaction he finds in raising general awareness of good eating. He solidly endorses the Slow Food Movement with its focus on eating fresh, locally grown food and has helped promote the Five Star Chef Series at MATC, where noted chefs are invited to share their philosophy and their recipes. To sample the fine food at the Gourmet 6 Dining Room, call 297-6697 for a reservation. The restaurant is closed during semester break but re-opens January 27. Hours are 11:15 to 12:30, Tuesday thru Thursday. For more information about enrolling in the Culinary Arts Program, call MATC at 297-7897 or check out the website at www.matc.edu.