Nick Giunta ’23 and Alivia Burke ’23 are the proverbial yin and yang of La Chanterelle, Endicott’s beloved student-run applied and experiential classroom.
While Giunta shines in his back-of-house duties—concocting menus, balancing budgets, and myriad tasks in between—Burke is a front-of-house star who knows how to turn tables and leave guests smiling. Together, as the program’s sole graduate assistants, they ensure every dinner service is one to remember—and they’re setting their standards ever higher leading up to La Chanterelle’s 30th anniversary this fall.
“It’s definitely worth celebrating, so we’re looking forward to it,” said Burke, noting that plans are in the works for an anniversary service class in the spring. “I love La Chanterelle because when you come here, it’s all about the experience. I ate here as a student and I still talk about my experience. I was very impressed.”
Burke’s positive La Chanterelle experience is what largely drew her back to Endicott for her graduate studies. “Since I was on the business management track, I didn’t have any hospitality-geared courses until my senior year,” Burke explained. “The [La Chanterelle] program is unlike anything I’ve seen before. When I applied for the graduate assistant position, this was one of my top positions that I went for and I was ecstatic when I got the offer.”
Giunta, like Burke, is pursuing an accelerated MBA at Endicott with an anticipated May 2024 graduation. But unlike Burke, Giunta was involved in La Chanterelle during his hospitality management undergraduate days and has yet to experience the non-traditional classroom as a guest.
“I’ve never dined here because every year I’ve been involved here. When I’m an alumnus, I’ll be able to come back and sit down for once,” he said with a smile. “I’ve worked with the students for the past two or three years now, so it was a huge plus for me to be able to stay with them and go through this process with them.”
Today, La Chanterelle is part of the Curtis L. Gerrish School of Business and students across all majors—not just hospitality—can take part in the La Chanterelle experience. “We teach them the general procedures, how to deal with customers, and we also teach them about wine pairings and customer experience-related things. It’s a mix,” Burke explained.
But the La Chanterelle experience is unique from any other class. As Giunta explained, the class is balanced between lecture, theoretical, and applied learning methods. Learning happens on the job and mistakes are inevitable (and encouraged). “When they’re making mistakes, that’s where we’re able to come in and really teach them something—because if one student drops several pieces of fish on the floor, that takes away several portions for the night. We sit with them and put them in the position to think critically,” he said.
“It’s not a class where you come every Thursday and sit at a desk for three hours. It’s, instead, a hands-on experience of real-life situations that get you ready for what you may see in the industry,” Giunta continued. “And it’s sure to look good on a résumé to have that experience.”
Located in the Misselwood Estate, La Chanterelle offers a prix fixe menu (three courses, with house-made bread baskets) and seats 40 guests a night. Dinners are always held on Thursdays, and the first service of this semester was on September 28. But for the students, the learning began well in advance of that first service.
Under the direction of General Manager Ryan Blodgett, Operations Coordinator Kayla Richards, and Pastry Chef Rebecca Doyon, as well as Giunta and Burke, students participated in workshops over the course of four weeks to learn the fundamentals of cooking fine cuisine and executing it in a classic service style—“serving on the right, taking away on the right,” said Giunta.
By week four, the class conducted a test run of all the back-of-house duties (cooking, staging, cleaning, etc.) and the front-of-house duties (setting tables, seating guests, serving food, etc.). By week five, they executed all aspects of La Chanterelle to invited guests.
“We tell students, ‘If you are going to make mistakes, this is the place to make them.’ The majority of our customers know this is also a classroom, so they’re usually pretty understanding and even helpful,” Burke said. “And the students have us if they need us, but they seem to pick it all up pretty quickly.”
For Giunta and Burke, teaching is a huge part of their roles as graduate assistants. As a barista trainer at Starbucks for several years, Burke knows what it takes to satisfy customers and she relays—and reinforces—those skills in her front-of-house pupils. Through stints at three upscale dining establishments, Giunta has also gained invaluable lessons about the hospitality world that he now shares with his back-of-house students.
But Giunta and Burke do way more than just teach.
Burke manages a rolling general contact list, and tracks all of the non-traditional classroom sales mixes and accounting practices. Additionally, she’s the point person on reservations and social media, with plans to launch a TikTok for the experiential classroom this year. Working with PSP Global Wines, she and Giunta collaborate on the wine list, which they say is strongest in its European offerings. Giunta handles the budget and orders everything for the classes, from crisp linens to fresh lettuce.
A lifelong fan of cooking, Giunta is ultimately looking to leave his mark on La Chanterelle through an evolving menu, prioritizing different cultural themes as well as what’s in season and locally available.
“We actually started an herb garden this year. We’re introducing a better way to eat food that’s more sustainable for the community, but also teaching our students a few skills as well,” Giunta said. “La Chanterelle, for me, has been a huge outlet within my education to be able to cook and still do the stuff I love.”
By returning to La Chanterelle, he’s continued to stoke his passion for all things culinary while honing his focus. Giunta used to dream of being the next big chef, but now he wants to run the next big restaurant—a goal that Endicott’s trained him well for.
“Up until junior or senior year of high school, I’d planned to go to culinary school; that’s what I wanted to do. And then I kind of got talked out of it to go into the business end of things, which is why I went with hospitality and management,” he shared. “I think working in the restaurant world is a love of mine. I like the business end of it and still being involved in the food, so a general manager would be an ideal situation that I’d apply for; there’s kitchen skills but also the service skills tied all together with a nice little bow.”
For Burke, working and teaching at La Chanterelle has solidified her inkling that hospitality is her calling. Following graduation, she plans to use these skills to integrate into a career in insurance and also parlay her Starbucks skills and Endicott experience into the successful opening of her own coffee shop. In the short term, she hopes to share the La Chanterelle experience with her loved ones.
“My family has never been here, so I can’t wait for them to see what I do,” she said. “I love La Chanterelle—I can’t wait to share it with them.”