Student restaurant serves up African cuisine

CHICAGO But a new option on the South Side is raising the bar, offering not only training, but a good meal as well.

You can get a great meal at Kendall College, near Goose Island or at the Illinois Institute of Art in the Loop. And because students prepare and serve the meals, prices are reasonable.

But ever since Washburne opened its gleaming new culinary campus on the South Side, the seniors there have been focused on the beautifully appointed in-house restaurant, serving a neighborhood that has, until recently, been somewhat neglected by restaurateurs.

Night students work diligently at Washburne's brand new culinary campus on the South Side as part of a major redevelopment in Englewood along 63rd Street. They know that soon they'll be working inside the building's restaurant, Sikia, which draws from several African cuisines.

"This is their last semester, so it's a four-semester program. So they've been here for four, 16-week semesters. We try to make the menu something that has some very authentic African dishes, and then some more familiar African-inspired dishes," said Bill Reynolds, Washburne Culinary Institute.

That might include a hearty gumbo or a Senegalese peanut soup, which starts with a base of rice and nuts, then the smooth, peanuty soup is ladled on top. A salad sampler includes a trio of African-inspired dishes - lentils with tomatoes and fried onions, Moroccan broccoli and cauliflower, plus onions and sweet potatoes.

"We try to do more North African, certainly a lot of Moroccan, Tunisian types of foods; and again, some things are inspired by that," Reynolds said.

Pan-roasted salmon is set into a bed of couscous, generously brushed with chermoula - a Moroccan spice blend; a North African tilapia is coated with bits of mango and cilantro, served with jollof rice, inspired by Nigerian kitchens. Meanwhile, berbere spiced short ribs are set onto a shallow pool of hand-ground yellow grits, paired with some assorted vegetables.

For dessert, the malva pudding, topped with a thick butterscotch sauce and a small scoop of ice cream, makes for a super-sweet ending.

Reynolds says even though just about every position at the restaurant is held by a student, that doesn't mean they're taking the job lightly.

"We want to be seen as a regular restaurant. We don't want to be seen as a 'school' restaurant, so we tell the students that. People are paying real money, for real food, and they expect it to be professional. And the fact that you're a student should be some interesting thing, not something they notice right away," Reynolds said.

The restaurant serves dinner only, Thursday through Saturday, as well as a Sunday brunch. It is BYOB. And be sure to try the house-made tea, laced with cinnamon, clove and nutmeg.

Washburne Culinary Institute
740 W. 63rd St.

Thursday - Saturday
5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Sunday Brunch
11 a.m. - 3 p.m.

Other culinary school dining rooms:
The Dining Room at Kendall College
off for semester break Dec. 6; will start back up Jan. 8 for lunch; Jan. 9 for dinner

900 N. North Branch St.

Illinois Institute of Art – Chicago
Backstage Bistro
off for semester break, will start back up week of Jan. 19
180 N. Wabash

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