When Connie Ruel came to our Boulder culinary school‘s campus and offered to host pop up restaurants hosted by our students, we jumped at the opportunity. What better way for them to get a taste of the culinary world and build confidence in their craft than to create and execute their very own menu for a one-night dining experience? From here on out, a handful of students each course will be able to showcase their talent, education and hard work in the form of a pop-up restaurant. Everything from menu design, table decorations and, of course, the menu itself will get dreamed up by the featured student and hosted in Connie’s latest venture, a community space for Boulder residents.
We sat down with Connie to talk about how she got the idea to partner with Escoffier, what she hopes to achieve with Follow The Ruel, and how she envisions this helping aspiring chefs.
Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts: How did you get the idea to open Follow the Ruel?
Connie Ruel: I guess you might say Follow the Ruel is my last big hurrah. I have owned four other restaurants and have had the great fortune to have worn just about every hat in this industry over the past 56 years (dang, did I just say that out loud?) After the completion of my cookbook/memoir, I began doing guest chef appearances at wineries, breweries and private homes. Follow the Ruel just seemed like the logical next step. The idea of Follow the Ruel is taking all those hats and combining them into one concept. Though it is small in stature, it is big in ideas and execution.
AESCA: Why did you want to open a multi-use space?
CR: You never get bored and you don’t rely on just one outlet for income…and I wanted an opportunity to give back to newcomers in the profession.
AESCA: How did you get the idea to partner with Escoffier Schools?
CR: After I sold my fourth restaurant I developed the curriculum for the school’s wine academy and entrepreneurship class, then taught as adjunct instructor for about 2 years (it was my idea of a sabbatical). The students were constantly being told that they should try to do a pop up restaurant to really get an idea of what it would take to be a manager or owner. But, I would always wonder how they would get that opportunity. When I came up with the idea of combining all my background into one concept, hoping to incorporate some way to give back, the idea was a no brainer.
AESCA: Can you explain a little about what the culinary students do and what the partnership entails?
CR: The POP UP OP is an intense endeavor for the culinary school students. It takes someone with gumption and drive to pull it off. I start by spending a lot of sit down time with them going over what their costs should be, how to write a progressive menu that will portray who they are as a chef. They need to come up with a biography, photograph of themselves and a menu costed out to a certain percentage target. We go over purchasing, yields recipes, production schedule, plate presentations etc. Then, the day of the event, I help them to instruct the service staff how to set their tables up and what their food is about. This is THEIR show, I am there to be their support and mentor. If all goes well they get a portion of the sales of the tickets.
AESCA: Why do you think community spaces are important?
CR: We all learn from each other no matter where we are in our careers. Interaction with one another betters us as professionals.
AESCA: What do you hope Follow The Ruel accomplishes?
CR: Whether it is in the coffee cafe, a POP UP event, painting class, author reading, catering event, winemaker dinner, brewmaster dinner, distiller dinner or at any of the many other things do at Follow the Ruel, it’s really all about bringing people together to enjoy food made with great ingredients and prepared with the soul. My goal is to touch each person experiencing Follow the Ruel on some sort of visceral level that other venues just can’t reach.
AESCA: You recently had your first pop up restaurant night with an Escoffier student. How did it go?
CR: Fabulously! The student, Christine, though nervous, did a great job. I think if you asked her she would say that the experience taught her an abundance on so many levels and in the end was immensely rewarding.
AESCA: What was your favorite part of the event?
CR: Watching the student’s creativity unfold while keeping the business aspect in mind and seeing the excitement that I remember feeling years ago on my first ventures.
AESCA: How do you hope these pop up dinners help culinary students?
CR: I am hoping they leave the experience with the knowledge that, though it is important to be a good chef, there are so many more aspects of what we do. I want to provide them with an excitement to enter their careers knowing they have the tools to be successful restaurateurs.