For most college students, mealtime means microwave dinners. But at The Summit restaurant, students dish up homemade risotto, sorbets and scallops.
The Summit opened to the public in May. The restaurant space was previously used to teach culinary courses at the Cincinnati State Midwest Culinary Institute. Now, it’s a selective co-op program for students, as well as a gourmet destination for diners.

The restaurant is tucked into the halls of Cincinnati State’s campus and boasts a comfortable yet elegant dining room, with no books or backpacks to be found.

Chef de cuisine Matt Winterrowd, a Cincinnati State graduate, runs The Summit. He formerly worked at local restaurant staples Daveed’s, Boca and Jean-Robert at Pigall’s, as well as Trio in Chicago. Donna Schmitt, the dining room manager, came from Mesh. Other than the two of them, The Summit is all student-run.

Before culinary students can co-op at The Summit, they must complete an apprenticeship and be observed and assessed in the kitchen. Once the school determines a student is capable, then he or she is treated not as a student, but as an employee.

“It’s challenging, but it’s very, very rewarding because of their drive and their determination,” Winterrowd says.

Winterrowd also encourages students to contribute to the flavor of The Summit. When the first group of students started working there, he gave them blank pieces of paper. They were instructed to create a menu combining fine dining and bistro food. After the menus were tweaked, many elements ended up on The Summit’s current menu, which changes seasonally. Winterrowd also adds much of the content after holding round-table discussions with his staff. “It encourages teamwork and ownership,” he says.

The students use techniques they have learned before entering the co-op, but Winterrowd wants them to advance. School lessons are used as a starting point to jump ahead to new skills.

Gourmet treats like haricot vert and Wagyu hanger steak abound, but guests will also find more familiar items at The Summit. Winterrowd wants to create conversation through food, and he hopes dishes will evoke memories and stories.

Chef Winterrowd’s favorite menu items include the morels with shallots, Idiazabal cheese and oregano, and soft shell crabs with black beans, avocado, lime and chilies.

The menu could easily appear at Cincinnati’s established fine dining restaurants. The student staff and adventurous menus wouldn’t disappoint epicurean experts. However, The Summit also hopes to be a fine dining “stepping stone” for curious novices. Winterrowd insists his staff isn’t trying to compete with other establishments.

After all, these chefs are only students — but no one has to know that just from tasting the food.

The Summit is located at 3520 Central Parkway, on Cincinnati State’s campus. It is open Thursday through Saturday, 5:30 to 9 p.m. Complimentary valet parking is offered.