Tod Thone '04 tosses a handful of onions, then tomatoes and mushrooms into his fry pan, a precise juggler in mid-performance. He keeps everything in motion, back and forth across the heat. With a flick of the wrist, the veggies are airborne. He is focused. He is light on his feet. And he's in a quandary: he can't decide which he likes better--cooking or wrestling. "I love 'em both," says the Thompson School restaurant management major, who also happens to be captain of the UNH wrestling team and an All-American in his weight class.

Thone, who hopes to open his own restaurant someday, is in the kitchen every Tuesday, preparing lunch for the student-run Balcony Bistro in Cole Hall, but this week is special, an opportunity to work side by side with top chefs who have come to campus as part of the Great Chefs program.

From Steve Learned, executive chef at The Balsams resort in Dixville Notch, N.H., Thone learns to French cut a mushroom. Classmate Keegan Rice '04 whips up chocolate ganache with Steven James, the Balsams' pastry chef.

"Our strength," says Charlie Caramihalis '81, '87G, associate professor of food services management, "is that we train restaurant managers who also know how to cook. Other management training programs don't have kitchens like this," he says sweeping his arm to take in the bustle of white coats and hats. "We offer a unique blend of academic and hands-on experience." Plus, students thrive on the benefits of a two-year program housed at a four-year university--like the chance to join the wrestling team.

By 11:45 a.m., the crew is ready to go, and the pace in the kitchen is picking up. Thone whisks egg yolks for a Hollandaise sauce, going for just the right amount of froth before putting them on the heat. Another student, Tish Sims '04, stirs the last of the chicken broth into the risotto. And Rice hefts a huge tray of meringues into the oven under the watchful eye of James.

"Anthony, you're up!" shouts Learned, as student waiter Anthony Vaccaro '04 sweeps in from the dining room and picks up a tray loaded with entrees.

The wait staff on duty today had their turn in the kitchen last semester. Now they're learning the finer points of good service, from how to take an order to how to pour. "I thought I knew everything," says Rebecca Wellington '05, who had worked as a waitress before enrolling in the program. "But I've learned so much."

"I call this the hidden gem of UNH," says Joyce Duszak '98, information technologist, who meets at the Balcony Bistro every week for lunch with her friend Suki Easter '74. What keeps them coming back?

"Partly, it's seeing the students develop and grow," says Easter, assistant director of the Climate Change Research Center. "By the end of the semester, they've come so far."

Oh--and the food is pretty darn good, too. ~

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