It’s Thursday evening at La Chanterelle and the place is packed.
In the kitchen, vegetables are being prepped, stocks are simmering on the stovetop and, in the dining room, servers uncork wine bottles and take orders. It may seem like your average restaurant scene but tonight is anything but as students—mostly from Endicott’s hospitality management program—perform a dry run in the lead-up to La Chanterelle’s spring reopening.
“I’ve worked in restaurants for most of my life, primarily on the service side, so now I’m getting a different perspective,” said Justin Liu ’25, who now has a role in the kitchen after learning as a server last semester. “We’re getting closer and closer to getting actual customers here in the restaurant, and I’m really excited.”
Experiential learning is the hallmark of an Endicott education, so the students learning in La Chanterelle’s live environment during the busy spring season, which opened on February 24, serve each other first to practice and troubleshoot before opening to the public. Reservations are booked solid for the semester, so if you happen to have one of those coveted slots, you’re among a rare minority.
“Students get to learn the sequence of service—the steps that you take from the minute the guest arrives to the minute you escort them to the door,” explained service instructor Kayla Richards. “By the end of the first service night, I ask the students, ‘How did you feel at the beginning?’ It’s always, ‘We’re nervous. We’re scared. I kind of want to cry.’ Then when it’s over, it’s ‘That was so much fun!’”
Located within the historic Misselwood Estate and part of the Curtis L. Gerrish School of Business, La Chanterelle is first and foremost a nontraditional classroom. Mistakes are inevitable and, unlike other restaurants, that’s kind of the point. That’s also what makes it special.
Cooking with gas
La Chanterelle’s genesis can be traced to the Swiss Alps. Tucked away in the municipality of Crans-Montana is where you’ll find one of the world’s leading hospitality schools, Les Roches, which served as the hands-on learning model for La Chanterelle in the mid-’90s. Back then, the late Endicott president Dr. Richard Wylie sought to bring a Les Roches-style concept to the North Shore, and recruited Swiss Master Chef Brendan Cronin—then a lecturer at Les Roches—to oversee the College’s new restaurant in 1995.
Before ever becoming a fixture on campus, the Irish-born Cronin worked at illustrious global hotspots like the Royal Orchid Hotel in Bangkok and Macau’s Mandarin Oriental, bringing his elevated international approach to Endicott.
Cronin retired in early 2021, but under the current direction of General Manager Ryan Blodgett, Service Instructor Kayla Richards, and Pastry Chef Rebecca Doyon—three stalwarts of the North Shore culinary scene—La Chanterelle is blazing a new future. It helps that they’ve all worked together for years and that Blodgett and Richards go way, way back.
Blodgett was teaching culinary arts classes at North Shore Community College when he noticed that one student—Richards—was always moseying into class, chronically late.
“But then I thought, ‘Oh, wait, she’s coming in wearing her Dunkin’ Donuts uniform at 8 a.m.,” Blodgett recalled.
“I’d get to Dunkin’ Donuts at 3 a.m., bake, open the store, get everything ready, drink way too many lattes, and then shoot over to class,” said Richards. “And do it all over again.”
“I just watched that level of dedication and the output that Kayla had was far superior to other students,” Blodgett said.
An Endicott alumnus, Blodgett returned to the College in 2015 to teach culinary classes and manage La Chanterelle. When he needed extra help, he remembered Richards, her drive and dedication.
In the wake of Cronin’s retirement, the trio has implemented quite a few changes. But they balk at the term modernization.
“Following industry trends is a better way to say it,” said Blodgett. “The consumer has become so much more informed that we had to rethink both front and back of the house, table design, menu, and different food. As the industry changes, we try to follow along with the trends to make sure that the students are getting the best education.”
Dining at La Chanterelle feels all at once like you’ve been whisked away to classic Europe, invited to dine inside someone’s cozy, albeit luxe, home—and also transported back in time. When you enter the restaurant, you pass a stately study where bookcases filled with antique volumes stretch to the ceilings. Gilded paintings line the walls. Overall, the vibe is elegant, but not opulent.
“The restaurant used to be very old school,” recalled Richards, also an Endicott alum. “You’d write down orders on carbon copy paper.”
While studying for her MBA prior to the pandemic, Richards attended the College’s annual Internship, Co-op & Career Fair and learned about Toast, a flexible point of sale and management platform. She penned a proposal to integrate Toast into the restaurant, which was quickly approved. Because the platform is so widely used, it’s yet another way students exit La Chanterelle and into a job landscape where they’ll seamlessly hit the ground running.
Of course, the pandemic forced other changes, too. “We used to do wine tastings in the library, that’s how this place has been run for years. It gets students involved, it gets them learning more about the wine and teaching guests about the wine. Then the pandemic hit. We all had to wear masks. We couldn’t, in good conscience, have 40 people come into our restaurants and wiggle into a tiny room,” said Richards. “So, we started doing tastings at the table. And then we said, ‘What if we offered an aperitif?’”
Eventually, that led to a side-by-side cocktail, mocktail, wine tasting, and even collaborations with alumni-owned Big Ass Iced Coffee.
“Flash forward to this year, flights are all the rage in the industry. Beer flights, coffee flights, tequila flights—anywhere you go probably has a flight on the menu,” explained Richards. “We always pair one wine with each entrée, so now we do our signature flight.”
Speaking of wine, La Chanterelle intentionally leans into varietals that most guests wouldn’t recognize. “It helps them step out of their comfort zone and try more things, and showcases how our students learn,” Richards added. “I’ve even had guests tell me, ‘Oh, can I take a picture of that bottle so I can grab it?’ It adds to the fun experience of the restaurant.”
With the emphasis on farm-to-table dining these days, Doyon noted that the restaurant is sourcing more local ingredients, as well. But perhaps the biggest change at La Chanterelle has been its pioneering guest chef program, an idea that Blodgett implemented during the fall 2021 semester when restaurants were still struggling, thanks to the ongoing pandemic. But as the world transitions into the endemic phase, chefs are increasingly back in the kitchen and back in high demand. While Blodgett still anticipates welcoming visiting chefs, the timing may be a bit more spontaneous.
Everything on the line
Students learn the workings of a restaurant at La Chanterelle but, most importantly, they build transferable management skills, according to Blodgett. That’s also why he, Richards, and Doyon all have MBAs.
Each fall and spring semester, Blodgett and Doyon teach Culinary Arts in the Kitchen (HTM 140) while Richards teaches Service Management (HTM 110). The culinary arts course teaches students the ins and outs of working in a kitchen—from knife skills to butchering to cooking and baking—while the service management class delves into the operational aspects of restaurant life. Students are required to take both classes and rotate each semester, so they get to work on both sides.
“Whether it’s events, hotel, food, and beverage, students need to learn all the aspects—how to maintain that classical style but then how to translate it,” said Blodgett.
For Doyon, who transitioned from high school teacher to single mother-slash-small business owner and now pastry instructor, imparting pastry skills to Endicott students is more than just baking cookies. “I love baking but my real passion is for education,” she said. “Working here is the best of both worlds.”
She wants students to understand the history of desserts, often assigning research papers on everything from fruit tarts to the backstory of bread pudding.
“If students can develop a personal connection to it, they become attached to it,” said Doyon. “And it’s a confidence booster for the students. They come in here timid and they leave knowing how to function in a commercial kitchen and say, ‘Oh, by the way, and I can make a crème brulée.’”
Students must also take marketing and accounting classes to become well-rounded professionals who can operate in any kind of hospitality setting, including hotels, weddings, restaurants, event planning, and beyond.
“That’s what we tell students in that first workshop. You’re learning transferable management. How to time manage yourself, your team, your surroundings, everything,” said Blodgett. “So that’s, I think, the biggest misconception about what we do down here. People are like, ‘Oh, it’s just a restaurant.’ But it’s the students’ classroom. It’s the students’ managerial classroom.”
Students not only walk away from their time at La Chanterelle with those transferable management skills but also a network—Blodgett, Richards, and Doyon regularly tap their pool of industry connections to enhance the La Chanterelle experience and help out their students, too.
Brooke Russo ’21 enjoyed her La Chanterelle experience so much that she’s now joined Blodgett and Richards as a graduate assistant, helping with reservations, social media, and accounting.
“Four years ago when I took this course I was so scared,” said Russo, who is now earning her MBA at the College. “But everyone has such a bond because everyone’s so anxious and you definitely help each other out. If you mess up, we’re not going to downgrade you. This class gives you the opportunity to mess up.”
“You just wouldn’t learn things anywhere else that you’d learn here,” said Christina Kew ’24, who was a server last year and is now trying her hand in the kitchen.
Alanna Baker ’25 echoed Kew’s sentiments. The novice server said she’s loving the hands-on experience and anticipates that she’ll better enjoy serving over kitchen work, even though “it is more nerve-wracking.”
But how does she feel about serving one of few folks with a standing reservation at La Chanterelle, President Steven R. DiSalvo, Ph.D.?
“I’ve been thinking about that,” Baker said with a laugh. “I’m a little nervous, but it’ll be fine.”