Late-summer in New York City is living up to it's notorious rep: the subway becomes a sauna, New Yorkers flee the city and the restaurant scene is dead. Okay, the good restaurants in New York will never be dead, but I walked into Momofuku Ssam Bar with a friend at 7:30 pm and was immediately seated. For a place with a typical half-to-two hour wait, that's dead.
L'Ecole, the FCI's school restaurant, seems to be faring no differently. The $28.00, 3-course prefixe lunch usually draws a steady stream of tourists, weary shoppers and local professionals. It's a bargain compared to its over-priced Soho neighbors, and the offerings are delicious. Eating at L'Ecole was actually what sealed the deal for me when I was considering the FCI. After a beautiful plate of scallops and meeting Jacques Pepin as he wandered around the dining room, I couldn't imagine going elsewhere. But now in a July heat wave, it seems many diners have done just that.
I mention this only because it's something that affects your experience at FCI. Students spend their last two months cooking in the school's restaurant, which is done to give them "real world experience." But with 4 cooks assigned to a station producing 2-4 dishes, the reality level is on par with a Food Network set. It's a great way for first-timers to ease into line cooking, and certainly better than peeling potatoes in another highly rated kitchen. For experienced cooks accustomed to manning their own station, it can be a little frustrating. But regardless of one's experience, late-summer is a rough time to be in that setup. There has been a decent amount of idling once prep is over and a slow service sets in. The chefs help by allowing students to create specials, but beyond that, there's little to occupy time when waiting for orders. Sticking obscene labels on classmates' coats is a popular past time. Another, more challenging prank involves cramming oneself into the condiment fridge and scaring the next person fetching mustard. And there's always fun to be found in stealing important elements of your classmates' mise. But if you have the luxury of a flexible schedule, it might be wise to choose a cycle where you end up working L'Ecole's lunch service during the holiday shopping season.