There are labs for chemistry, biology and physics, all of which discourage eating in them, but the concept of a laboratory class extends beyond the traditional science classes, stretching into subjects like dietetics and hospitality management. Tucked away on the second floor of Erikson Hall, one can find a restaurant called The Lemon Tree, which is entirely run by students, encourages eating and is indeed a laboratory course.
The restaurant is open to the public, and there is enough room for 47 people to have reservations on any given day the restaurant runs a “service,” which is most Tuesdays and Thursdays throughout the semester, from noon to 2 p.m.
On Valentine’s Day, the fare was a three-course meal composed of an Apple Waldorf salad for the appetizer; pulled barbeque pork with an old-fashioned hoecake, mashed potatoes, and butter beans for the main entree; and pineapple upside-down cake for the dessert.
The menu for each service varies widely, and it is all prepared by a team of upperclassmen students under the supervision of Chef Bob Perry, who has been running the food preparation side of the lab course for 11 years. The course is titled “Quantity Food Production,” and its abbreviation is DHN 342, but most people simply refer to the course as the restaurant’s name.
This “back of the house” section contains half of the students, with each being assigned a specific role that pertains to the functioning of a kitchen within a restaurant. In the restaurant space itself, or the “front of the house,” the other half of the students fill various positions one would find on the floor space of a restaurant. Some of the roles found in the back of the house include dishes crew, main course preparation, dessert preparation and even managers. The front of the house features roles such as food critics, servers, sanitation, in addition to other managers. Each time the lab section meets, the students rotate positions so they can experience each one and learn the responsibilities behind each unique position. About halfway through the semester, the students also switch working in the front and back of the house to further broaden their experiences.
Accompanying the lab part of the course, there is a lecture. Aaron Schwartz has taught the lecture portion of the course for the last four-and-a-half years, and he has also been a registered dietician since 2011. In the lecture portion, Schwartz teaches students about the many facets that comprise running a restaurant. Very recently, the topic of discussion has related to the business and management side of running a restaurant.
One of the students, Jhan Froukh, who played one of the “critic” roles, remarked on how immersive the course is as a whole. Froukh is a senior studying dietetics.
“I never knew I’d be interested in marketing and business,” Froukh said.
The other student critic, Zhangzeyu “Bruce” Zhao, agreed, adding that he really enjoys the course. Zhao is a senior studying hospitality management.
Schwartz noted that the class is composed of a blend of both dietetics and hospitality management majors, as the class allows students from both fields of study to gain immediate experience in both their major and in the other program. He said his favorite part of the class is seeing this combination of students coming together and working with each other’s strengths and weaknesses to really make this student-run restaurant function in the best way it can.
“One thing I try to teach them is how to work well on a team,” he said, referring to the various roles the students fill during the course of the lab.
In addition to supporting the students of the class, The Lemon Tree menu uses Kentucky Proud ingredients, in some way to show its support for local farmers. It also amasses all the money collected from the cost of eating there ($14 per person) and donates it to Aramark, the entity behind UK Dining, for purposes like financing Fusion, a restaurant also located in Erikson Hall. Guests who dine at The Lemon Tree can also leave money as a donation for a scholarship given to a student in the course in lieu of a tip.
To make a reservation at The Lemon Tree, email Tracy Cayson at email@example.com or call 859-257-3800.