Samuel Voss (chef's hat) helps Clinton High Culinary Program students (from left) Amber Neese, Tyler Harlston and Nick Leu prepare a meal for school administrators Thursday.

The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

CLINTON — Area residents have a new place to go to experience formal dining and excellent service along with such gourmet selections as sausage Tuscan soup, ciabatta steak sandwiches and banana trifles.

But diners won’t find this fancy restaurant downtown or on the west end. Instead, they will have to travel to the second floor of Clinton High School to the family and consumer sciences wing, where they will discover the Court Café.

Created by instructor Brenda Rasche and her culinary practicum students, the café opened to rave reviews Thursday from school staff and administrators.

“I am just so proud of how the program has developed and how the students prepared themselves,” CHS principal Karinne Tharaldson said. “They did an awesome job, and I couldn’t be more proud.”

The students, who were hand selected by Rasche to participate in the upper level food course, performed the duties of hostess, greeter, server and chef during the café's debut, and were responsible for creating and preparing each of the enticing menu selections.

“Some of these kids have struggled in other areas, but they have just really blossomed over here,” Rasche said. “This is their thing. They are extremely excited.”

According to Rasche, the café’s creation was a team effort, with students volunteering their time after school to make sure everything was completed on time. Students in DeAnna Coers’ interior design class were responsible for decorating the café, and woodshop students helped to hang the curtains and construct the furniture.

But Rasche said the group owes an enormous amount of gratitude to Mike Rastrelli, owner of Rastrelli’s, who allowed his chefs to volunteer their time and talents to mentor the students in the kitchen.

Rastrelli has even hired a few of the students to work in his restaurant.

“The team from Rastrelli’s couldn’t have been more supportive and helpful,” Tharaldson said. “They have been a tremendous asset.”

Rasche says the café will be open for one period every Friday, and the students are looking for community groups of 20 to 25 to participate in the student-run dining experience. The café is run on donations, and Rasche only asks that diners contribute what they feel is appropriate.

“Our goal is for this to be a learning experience,” Rasche said. “But we want it to be fun, too.”

Senior Tyler Harlston says he has always loved to cook, and his experience in the culinary arts program has taught him real-life time management skills. He plans to attend Le Cordon Bleu Institute in the fall.

Junior Amber Neese said she is proud to be one of only 10 students selected to be in the program.

“It’s not just a regular classroom where you sit and get lectured — it’s really hands-on,” Neese said. “It is a really good opportunity, and it’s just been a great experience.”