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Culinary students cook for their careers and to help the community

The newest restaurant "hot spot" in Barrio Logan is run completely by culinary students.

Brian Brennan is one of the student chefs at the California Culinary Arts Institute in Barrio Logan. He’s completed four months of rigorous commercial cooking education.

“My experience with food was mainly front of the house," Brennan said. "Until COVID stole my job and I decided to find a purpose. And I found out I’m really good at (cooking).”


Brennan is one of a half dozen advanced students who will spend the next four months in an externship cooking and running the school's newly-opened restaurant, Bistro. The group of students must manage the restaurant, purchase and cook the food, and serve customers.

“Whether you make too much (food) and you’re wasting money, or you make just enough and you get it perfect ... it’s a balancing act," Brennan said.

The Bistro is on the patio of the California Culinary Arts Institute at 1620 National Ave. Since opening Jan. 12, its business hours are Monday through Friday from 11:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

The menu was created by the student staff and includes an eclectic list of entrees that includes Roman ragú with fettuccine, a tuna sandwich with handmade potato chips, and arancini risotto balls in marinara sauce.

Arancini made with risotto balls in marinara sauce is an Italian dish featured on the menu in the Bistro at the California Culinary Arts Institute, San Diego, Calif., January 19, 2023.<br/><br/><br/>
M.G. Perez
Arancini made with risotto balls in marinara sauce is shown at Bistro at the California Culinary Arts Institute. San Diego, Calif., Jan. 19, 2023.

The students are being mentored by executive chef and the school's founder, Sohrab Zardkoohi. He is an Iranian immigrant with a lifetime of experience in kitchens around the world.


Zardkoohi started the school as a business, but Bistro will benefit the community. All proceeds from food sales are donated to help people experiencing homelessness and the San Diego Humane Society.

Zardkoohi is educating his students in hopes they will pay it forward.

"In running a restaurant as a manager or as a chef manager, they would be able to handle the front of the house and the back of the house. So, in the future, if they want to own their own restaurant they will have that experience," Zardkoohi said.

Vichit Vannarath, a member of the Bistro team, said she needed to find life again after losing her mother and three other family members to COVID-19 early in the pandemic. She is accomplished in Asian cuisine, and committed to using her talent to develop French and Italian dishes for the bistro.

She cooks in honor of those whom she lost.

“I want them to be proud of me," Vannarath said. "I want them to still know I’m doing it, even though life is tough without them.”

Executive Chef and Founder, Sohrab Zardkoohi, is an Iranian immigrant with a lifetime of experience in kitchens around the world. He designed the student-run Bistro to educate students and contribute to the community with all proceeds from food sales donated to help the homeless and the San Diego Humane Society, San Diego, Calif., January 19, 2023.
M.G. Perez
Executive chef and founder, Sohrab Zardkoohi, is shown in this image taken Jan. 19, 2023 in San Diego, Calif.

Angelina Aguayo, a student waitress, said she has a simple plan for her future once she completes the externship — finding a good, stable restaurant job.

"And maybe when I retire I will have a food truck and just travel the world," Aguayo said. "I feel like that’s such a basic thing to say, but I love food and I love traveling.”

As a former special education teacher, I look forward to connecting with you and reporting on stories that often go underreported in education. #WeAreBetterTogether
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