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Still Cooking: Culinary Facility Faces Delayed Opening

Aspiring chefs eager to utilize Clark’s new state-of-the-art culinary facility will have to wait just a little longer for it to finish cooking.

The McClaskey Culinary Institute, originally scheduled to open at the start of Fall quarter, is expected to begin hosting classes in the third week of the term, according to Dean of Workforce, Technical and Professional Education Genevieve Howard. In the meantime, classes will focus on safety training and theoretical concepts, utilizing the Columbia Tech Center campus’ kitchen for cooking.

“Construction is a fickle thing,” Howard said. “So we always knew that a plan B was gonna be there.”

At Clark College on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017.(Andy Bao/The Independent)
At Clark College on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. (Andy Bao/The Independent)

According to project manager Jim Watkins, the facility’s completion is “coming along slowly, day by day” with a long list of small things left to do. He said the project has already exceeded its original $6.9 million budget, with crews working overtime after a wet winter and bad soil conditions under the floors set them back.

While Howard still hopes to be granted occupancy (a certification from the city health department, fire department and other agencies allowing Clark to occupy the building) on Sept. 25, she said the kitchens will still have to be stocked and equipped before classes can begin there.

Curtis Restaurant Equipment worker Robert Wagner walks under a caution tape at the McClaskey Culinary Institute at Clark College on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. Originally expected to open at the beginning of fall quarter, delays have pushed the opening back to sometime later this fall. (Andy Bao/The Independent)

However, these changes won’t affect the curriculum according to Culinary instructor Aaron Guerra. The first few weeks will focus on history, professionalism and food safety training, which Guerra said was already a part of the plan.

“We don’t have a classroom in the new facility,” Guerra said. “So we would be in a classroom [in the T building] anyway.”

Guerra said that the “completely modernized” 20,000 square foot facility will be the only one of its kind at a community college within 120 miles since Le Cordon Bleu in Portland closed this year following changes in state funding to for-profit colleges.

Construction continues at the McClaskey Culinary Institute at Clark College on Sept. 19, 2017. Originally expected to open at the beginning of fall quarter, delays have pushed the opening back to sometime later this fall. (Andy Bao/The Independent)

According to Howard, the institute will also be able to take Le Cordon Bleu’s place by offering the same level of education at a lower price.

“At Le Cordon Bleu I think a one-year certificate was around $30,000, and a two-year degree was around $45,000,” Howard said. “A two-year degree, with books and everything included, is less than $15,000 [at Clark].”

Cooking instructor Earl Frederick said the safety certification, along with critical thinking and hands-on experience, will be critical for students entering the workforce.

“Our whole goal with this operation is to leave [graduating students] job-ready. We’ll work a lot on those interpersonal skills in here, not just practical skills.” Frederick said. “Businesses like Nike have 20 or 30 different food outlets and people don’t even know. [The Pacific Northwest] is a hub for business dining.”

According to Guerra, food jobs imported from Portland could also help the institute succeed.

“People forget that we are just right there, the bridge is just right there,” Guerra said. “We’re still the Pacific Northwest, we still have the brilliant minds and people who want to eat well and live well and things that people associate with Portland.”

The facility not only benefits the culinary program, though. It also provides a new space for all students to gather and socialize.

“There’s really a blending of the outdoor and the indoor space,” Howard said. “A place where you can get food and hang out, I think, is gonna be really beneficial for students. You’ll have the food court and the kiosks and grab-and-go salad bar type stuff, and next year the restaurant will open up.”

Food prices remain up in the air as culinary instructors try to provide affordable options while staying financially viable.

“Will it be the level of pricing you see outside of campus?” Guerra said. “No, it’ll be below that. But will it be more relevant to the industry and what we have to pay to make the food? Yes.”

The culinary department is divided into cuisine and professional baking and pastry. Howard said that the baking classes are almost at their 30-student capacity, while the cuisine classes were at between half and two-thirds enrollment and still processing applications as of Sept. 13.

The Dean also said the lower enrollment for cuisine might be due to the fact that the program hasn’t been offered by Clark for the last three years, as opposed to baking’s one year hiatus.

“[Cuisine and baking] both offer a one-year certificate and a two-year associate’s degree,” Guerra said. “[The next step] really depends on the individual. They could go to the [Bachelor of Applied Sciences in Applied Management program], transfer to [Washington State University Vancouver] for the hospitality program, and then there are other options outside Vancouver.”

While there are only two courses in cuisine this quarter, Guerra said the future is wide open in terms of what skills could be taught.

“Right now we’re just focusing on trying to get the facility open and the new cohort of students in and settled,” he said. “Year two, when we have the restaurant open and student-run, that’s when we’ll be a little more creative and flexible with stuff outside the content we already have.”

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