Fine Dining in Flip-Flops: Les Cheneaux Culinary School in Hessel, MI
Les Cheneaux Culinary School serves up elegant cuisine and chef education.
On the eastern edge of the Upper Peninsula is the tranquil waterfront village of Hessel. The year-round population of 200 swells to 10,000 during the summer, due in no small part to the annual Antique Wooden Boat Show and Festival of the Arts each August. Hessel has a rich heritage in boat-building and repair. For many who live along the channels that weave throughout the nearby 36 wooded islands, boats are their primary means of transportation.
In 2012 a group of residents and frequent visitors decided Hessel needed an upscale restaurant. They desired an establishment that not only served fine food but benefitted the greater community as well. After much planning and fundraising, they launched a school to train future chefs, restaurant managers and culinary entrepreneurs. A state-of-the-art kitchen and 55-seat restaurant would be their classroom.
The founders converted a former inn to Les Cheneaux Culinary School and Restaurant. (“Les Cheneaux” translates to “the channels.”) They also hired Zachary Schroeder, a graduate of the Great Lakes Culinary Institute in Traverse City, as program director and executive chef.
Between 10 and 15 students are accepted into each year-long program. They learn all aspects of the trade, including food preparation, presentation and service; restaurant and bar management and marketing. (When I visited, they were making prosciutto.) After three 10-week terms of kitchen-intensives, students intern in the restaurant, which is open during the summer months.
The tuition is $12,500, which includes uniforms and a professional knife set. Financial aid is available.
The menu changes often, but is strongly farm-to-table, emphasizing local or at least Michigan-produced ingredients.
Our three-course dinner included Great Lakes salmon and corn chowder; tomato gazpacho, basted chicken breast with fresh vegetables, and summer vegetable couscous with pesto and pine nuts. Dessert was wild blueberry cheesecake with wild blackberry and wild raspberry coulis in a toasted almond crust.
As the evening progressed, a brilliant sunset descended over the marina.
186 S. Pickford Ave.
Hessel, MI 49745
(Thank you, Les Cheneaux Culinary School, for hosting my visit.)