Eyrie gives culinary students real-life experience in Oak Park
Eyrie chef Cheryl Corrado (right) demonstrates fine points to culinary student Justin Bast, who is three weeks into his on-site restaurant training. | Meredith Morris~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 2, 2012 6:36AM
OAK PARK — The last course in their degree program but just a starter for their profession, Eyrie restaurant is the pièce de résistance of Robert Morris University culinary students’ education.
Eyrie, 128 N. Oak Park Ave., is a student-run Contemporary American restaurant celebrating its first year in the village. Eyrie will be honored Nov. 13 with a 2012 Green Award from the Oak Park Environment and Energy Commission.
Designed as an interdisciplinary project of students at Robert Morris’ Integrated Learning Center, the dining room features verdant greens, dark wood and natural light. Its green qualities include reclaimed Chicago wood tabletops and recycled product flooring, light fixtures, seating fabric and counter tops.
Serving lunch Tuesday through Saturday, and Saturday dinner twice a month, Eyrie is the final 10-week assignment for Robert Morris students aspiring to be chefs or develop careers in food-related fields as diverse as nutrition, product development and food photography.
Cheryl Corrado, Eyrie’s head chef and instructor, said the restaurant is where students hone their sense of urgency before seeking their first jobs. Prior to Eyrie, Corrado spent 16 years as a Cordon Bleu instructor. Part of what sets Eyrie apart from other culinary schools, she said, is its stand-alone status.
“When students come here, it’s more like a job than just another classroom,” she said. “The work may feel the same, but it’s emotionally different. Every plate needs to be the same and it has to be quality.”
Students learn to work all facets of a restaurant kitchen at Eyrie, where Corrado works one-on-one with them, helping each brush up skills. Her function is to help students at work stations, expedite service and oversee the final product.
If a burger ordered medium-well is rare, she sends it back. If a plate rim is messy, that too stays back-of-house.
“It’s good to ask, would you pay for this? If the answer is yes, great. If not, let’s fix it,” she said.
Justin Bast, a student in his third week at Eyrie, appreciates cooking for customers, not grades.
“It feels different. In the classroom you’re cooking and your instructor critiques it, but here you have a customer. I enjoy seeing their faces light up,” said Bast, who hopes to be a head chef or go into food product development.
Another student, Megan Greer, is into her second stint at Eyrie. The first was to complete her culinary degree, and now she’s working front-of-house to finish an internship in hospitality services.
“I really enjoy it. I like talking to the people of Oak Park about how the restaurant is of value to the community,” she said, noting general appreciation for Eyrie’s focus on local foods and sustainable practices.
The work can be challenging.
“Some days will be 40 covers and some days seven. You never know what to expect,” she said, and customers make it clear when they’re displeased. “They have comment cards, so if you do something they don’t like, you will hear about it.”
Customers range from retired couples who linger to business lunches, shoppers and take-out diners, Corrado said.