A scenario: Your family is ready for dinner, but you don’t feel like cooking and don’t want to head to the same old restaurants. You’re in the mood for something new but aren’t looking to break the bank for a fine dining experience, so where to go? Arizona Culinary Institute has one solution with du Jour Dining.
At ACI, students begin with basic culinary arts, sauces and meat fabrication, and baking and pastry courses. After learning food and beverage management, they test their knowledge at du Jour, a restaurant that’s open to the public. The restaurant’s operations and advanced cuisine courses act as a hands-on laboratory, giving students practical experience to prepare for the next steps in their careers.
“du Jour Dining is an extension of our culinary education, which we divide into four blocks, much like freshman, sophomore, juniors and seniors,” said Erin Coopey, director of education at ACI. “du Jour is considered the senior time in the program, where students spend three weeks in the front of the house and three weeks in the back of the house, learning everything about running a restaurant in real-time.”
From seating guests to bartending, food preparation, and final plating, students do it all as they gain valuable experience in a controlled environment. ACI offers both a day and night core diploma program, and those students run the restaurant for lunch or dinner.
Dining at du Jour is a multi-course experience as students focus on high-end service work and food presentation. After learning the core fundamentals of culinary arts and many hours of lab work, students are well-prepared to deliver high-quality food. Under the guidance of chef James West, students learn the proper way to cook fish, chicken, beef, and signature meals, with a rotating menu featuring four entrée choices.
Long-time hospitality professional and instructor Jim Baker manages the front of the house, guiding students toward delivering the highest standard of service in the reservation-only restaurant. Most lunch entrees are under $20, and dinner is priced around $22-$25, with appetizers and desserts also on the menu.
“We are always making decisions based on the strength and capability of the students,” Coopey said. “From the public perspective, this is an opportunity to have a five-star meal for pennies on the dollar. It’s an amazing dining experience from the level of service. Of course, the students are learning, but you couldn’t get a meal like this anywhere else.”
Executive Chef Christopher Wolf oversees the faculty at du Jour. The school offers small class sizes averaging 12 students to provide one-on-one tutoring and build connections in the classroom.
Students are evaluated and must pass their du Jour courses, plus 210 internship hours before officially earning their diploma. The school graduates about 250 to 300 students per year, who, on average, take eight months to complete the program. ACI works with dozens of Valley businesses to find the proper employment for students.
“We offer personalized internship placements to start students out in their careers,” Coopey said. “The goal is to provide a natural transition where they come away feeling supported. We want them to be as prepared as possible for a career they are going to love.”
Reservations are required to dine at du Jour. Lunch hours are Monday-Friday starting at 11:30 a.m., and dinner hours are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday starting at 6:30 p.m.