What Saint Paul's culinary students fed me for lunch

Now comes the really good part: Lunch.

I'm dining at City View Grille, the in-house restaurant that serves as training ground for Saint Paul College's culinary program.

My server today is 24-year-old Jeff Speaks, who drives 25 minutes from Plymouth because of the reputation of the program and his ties to instructor Manfred Krug, with whom he worked at a restaurant in Stillwater.

Off the comprehensive one-page menu, I order salad with house-made blue cheese dressing (Jeff's recommendation), followed by pot stickers from scratch, chicken breast Wellington with mushroom-and-spinach stuffing, Bearnaise sauce, roasted potatoes and broccoli, a plate of gnocchi with garlic, cream and Gruyere cheese, and finally a mango Bavarian cream dessert.

And that for $13, all made and served up by students such as Jeff. With a great view, to boot.

Buttery filo. Tender chicken. Really good food.

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(Don't worry, I paid for myself.)

"I bet you won't have a better lunch when you tour other schools," boasted Jim Stumne, the college's marketing director.

Half the fun was seeing it made. Krug and his students worked the meat, stirred the sauces, hand-wrapped the pot stickers. Some of them worked up an actual sweat standing over the hot stoves.

"It's a blue-collar profession with a white-collar image," Krug told me.

His program has about 120 students at the moment, and the 90-percent placement rate used to be better before the economic downturn, he said.

It was the program's open house in 2010 that prompted 30-year-old Jessica Tyler of St. Paul to switch over from her studies as an aspiring medical lab technician.

Why so sudden a change?

"I just tasted the food."