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2014 December 22 - 05:48 pm

Mich. College Strives To Reinvent Culinary Education

Kalamazoo Community College Will Focus on Environment and Sustainability In Addition to Cooking


KALAMAZOO, Mich. (AP) — Every chef can stir and sauté, but those coming out of the new Kalamazoo Valley Community College culinary school will also know about sustainability and locally sourcing their food.

Construction began in August on the Culinary and Allied Health and Food Innovation buildings on KVCC’s Healthy Living Campus near Bronson Methodist Hospital. Construction of the new curriculum also has been moving forward.

Dean McCurdy, associate vice president for food and community sustainability at KVCC, told the Kalamazoo Gazette ( http://bit.ly/1yoLQYM ) that the focus has been on reimagining the way people think about food and food preparation.

“What’s really different and distinct about the program is that students will take a much deeper dive into nutrition, food science, food safety and sustainability than they would in a traditional program,” McCurdy said. “We’ve added environmental, sustainability, and health elements to the program. We’ve added more elements and have been more efficient about how we do it.

“We’ve reinvented what culinary education looks like.”

McCurdy said KVCC is taking a “system-wide” approach to food. A third of a student’s courses will be in the farm innovation center. They should also plan to learn about food production, sustainable purchasing, entrepreneurship, health and nutrition. Internships will be required but not every student will work in a restaurant; some may partner with hospitals or community programs or schools.

“We’re trying to address the new culinary trend of farm-totable eating, but we want to be the first program that has institutionalized that as a course of study.

Pieces of each thing exist out there. What we’re trying to do is bring them all together.”

The premiere program will be a degree in culinary arts and sustainable food systems. But, other programs in development include degree or certificate programs in food service management, nutrition, sustainable agriculture and brewing.

In May 2013, KVCC formed a partnership with Bronson Healthcare and Kalamazoo Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services to develop a campus focused on wellness and food sustainability. The campus is becoming a catalyst for urban revitalization, community health, and workforce development through sustainable food education, training, production, distribution and preparation.

The $45 million campus, located on 13 acres donated by Bronson Healthcare, will be home to three separate facilities: a Culinary/Health Careers building; a Food Innovation center; and a Mental Health clinic. Construction began in September and the anticipated program launch is fall 2015 with facilities opening shortly thereafter.

KVCC has launched a search for two key administrative positions with the new campus: a director for sustainable and innovative food systems and a director of culinary education.

The Director for Sustainable and Innovative Food Systems will have administrative responsibilities related to sustainable urban agriculture and food safety courses and programs, community outreach activities, and student interns. The position includes teaching responsibilities in the area of sustainable food systems and/or agriculture/horticulture courses relevant to the background of the candidate.

The Director for Culinary Education must be a chef an understanding of “ground-up” sustainability, health and nutrition.

The 75,000-square-foot Culinary and Allied Health building will house KVCC’s existing nursing, EMT and respiratory care programs, taking advantage of the new site’s proximity to Bronson Methodist Hospital and the WMU Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine. The rest of the building is dedicated to the culinary arts program, and will include a student-run restaurant, bakery, brewery and community kitchens. The 16,400-square-foot Food Innovation Building will have spaces for food education, indoor growing spaces and food safety and food processing classes. Several greenhouses will be located on the property.

While KVCC is not a research institution, McCurdy said the space will be ideal for exploring cutting-edge growing and processing technologies and he hopes to partner with growers and food professionals in the area to explore the building’s potential.

The Healthy Living campus provides an opportunity to create food professionals that can tap into the needs and curiosities of their customers, McCurdy said.

“People want to know a lot more about where their food comes from,” McCurdy said. “We have to develop chefs with a deeper and broader set of skills and knowledge. It’s a very different take on the job. They need to know about preparing food but also the science of where food comes from. You need to understand what trade-offs are involved in the food system. What’s the advantage of buying one type of fish over another. You have to know where it comes from, how it’s shipped here and how it’s stored.

“Consumers want to pick from a variety of healthy choices. Chefs are one of the best and biggest influences on our health. We’re asking a lot from our chefs.”

But not only will KVCC train new chef with the new campus, but it has an opportunity to impact the health and well-being of Kalamazoo, McCurdy said.

The wonderful thing about Kalamazoo is that it’s big enough to have a critical food mass with distributors, producers and institutions with food interests, but it’s small enough that KVCC will be able to make significant changes to Southwest Michigan’s food landscape.

“The location is super exciting for us,” McCurdy said. “We’re located in an emerging health corridor. We’re in neighborhoods we want to serve. I think we’re hitting on the right idea at the right time.”

Information from: Kalamazoo Gazette, http://www.mlive.com/kalamazoo

Also from LINDA S. MAH, KALAMAZOO GAZETTE

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