Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — Chef coat clad students were abuzz, chatting and moving quickly about in a state-of-the-art cooking classrooms, making croquetas de jamon and German bratwurst for their international cuisine course.
The scene was not in the halls of the famed Culinary Institute of America, but in downtown Niagara Falls.
Last week, Niagara County Community College students started their fall semester. Culinary and hospitality majors did so in the brand new, $25 million Niagara Falls Culinary Institute built in what was once the Rainbow Centre Mall.
School officials gave members of the press a tour on of the facility Wednesday morning.
Alana Nisbeth, a second-year culinary arts student, said that she was excited to be helping to break in the new equipment. Nisbeth enjoys having a separate facility specifically designed for culinary and hospitality students, she said.
“It’s just for us and I really like that about it,” Nisbeth said.
Culinary and hospitality majors will get hands-on experience working in the deli, pastry shop and fine dining restaurant which will be open to the public.
School officials said they aim to have the deli and pastry shop open by late September and Savor — the name of the new restaurant — open by the end of October.
Nisbeth said that having the opportunity to work in a real-world setting alongside some of their teachers will make students better professionals.
“It works out perfectly,” Nisbeth said. “For some people, if it’s their first experience, they can have it right at school.”
Scott Steiner, the class instructor, moved from station to station advising students as they worked at their culinary creations. The flat screen televisions above his head will be used to show students videos and presentations as they work at their stainless steel stations.
Steiner said that he is excited to be working in a world-class facility in Niagara Falls.
“We did something with the Rainbow Mall,” Steiner said. “Isn’t that something?”
This semester 350 students will take classes at the culinary institute, but there is plenty of room for growth. The building has the space to handle more than 1,000 students per semester.
Mark Mistriner, business and hospitality chair at NCCC, said that industry executives that have toured the building rank it in the top three or four of its kind in the country based on the quality of the facilities.
Mistriner feels the quality of the instructors at NCCC sets the culinary institute apart. At other culinary institutes, instructors often have industry experience or training in education, but not always both, he said.
“All our instructors have industry experience as chefs and they also have master’s degrees,” Mistriner said.
The new facility will be used not only by the students, but community members and tourists as well. Beyond the restaurant, deli and pastry shop, the building also houses a wine boutique and a community education kitchen to be used for cooking lessons from instructors.
“I see us as becoming a destination,” Mistriner said.
The wine boutique will offer New York state wines exclusively, 80 percent of which will be from the Niagara wine trail area, and will emphasize the use of local produce and meats in both classes and the retail spaces.
Mistriner said that using local and sustainable food is no longer a trend, but an industry standard.
“We’re trying to make students aware of sourcing as much product locally as possible through local farmers or manufacturers,” Mistriner said.
Dr. James Klyczek, the school’s president, said that he found it hard to believe the culinary institute he dreamed about for years was finally a reality.
“In some ways it’s turning out exactly as we imagined,” Klyczek said. “It’s very exciting.”
Klyczek said the institute’s primary function is education, but it will also serve as a source of entertainment for residents and tourists and as an economic catalyst for downtown.
“I think what this provides guests, visitors to the area, is just multiple options for something to do,” Klyczek said.
Klyczek said an urban setting is the perfect area for the students.
“It brings some liveliness to the area and you know you’ve got a serious venture going on,” he said.