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May 27, 2020

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Clark culinary program getting a new home

Institute hopes to fill a gaping hole in region lacking affordable kitchen training

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Clark College Cuisine Instructor Aaron Guerra, center, talks Thursday to interested wine and beer distributors about Clark College's new culinary program during a tour of the facility that's under construction, aiming to open next fall.
Clark College Cuisine Instructor Aaron Guerra, center, talks Thursday to interested wine and beer distributors about Clark College's new culinary program during a tour of the facility that's under construction, aiming to open next fall. (Photos by Ariane Kunze/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Construction of the Tod and Maxine McClaskey Culinary Institute at Clark College is on schedule for completion by fall 2017.

When finished, it will open as the “premier cuisine and baking institute in our area,” Cuisine Instructor Aaron Guerra said.

This state-of-the-art facility could not come at a better time. Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts announced in 2015 that it was closing its doors at all 16 U.S. locations, including downtown Portland, by September 2017, and The Art Institute of Portland is phasing out its culinary program.

The culinary labor market for the Portland-Vancouver metro area is projecting 8 percent growth over the next five years, adding about 7,000 local jobs, according to statistics provided by Clark College.

Additionally, visitor spending on food services in Clark County has increased 10 percent — from $121.6 million in 2014 to $133.7 million in 2015, said Jacob Schmidt, spokesman for Visit Vancouver USA. Those numbers are from the most recent Washington State Travel Impacts & Visitor Volume report.

“While these numbers only represent a slice of area restaurants’ customer base — spending from visitors to the area — I think they help demonstrate the growing demand for additional dining options in the area,” Schmidt said.

With increased dining options comes a need for well-trained professionals to run the kitchens and bakery facilities. The Culinary Institute at Clark College hopes it will be able to help fill that order, and do so at a far more affordable price tag than any other school within 120 miles.

The most recent numbers for Le Cordon Bleu and The Art Institute — both for-profit schools — showed culinary degrees ringing up at $42,500 and $45,800, respectively. A culinary arts certificate from the Northwest Culinary Institute is $16,000. The closest publicly funded culinary arts program is at Lane Community College in Eugene, Ore., and costs just shy of $13,000, including books and supplies.

The median annual salary for Washington chefs and head cooks is $41,500, according to a state report from July 2015.

The two-year degree program at the Clark College will fall just shy of $13,000. Guerra said the program’s 20,000-square-foot space has been revamped and that the curriculum takes a back-to-basics approach.

The cost of the degree “fits with the mission and vision of Clark College,” said Russell Brent of the Clark College Foundation. “The college is committed to breaking the cycle of poverty. Clark College is committed to being an open door, a community builder and an economic engine for (Southwest) Washington and the region.”

Donations sought

Spurred by a $4 million grant from the Tod and Maxine McClaskey Family Foundation, the Culinary Institute still has another $6 million to raise.

Gift opportunities include $2 million for the 1,260-square-foot remodeled restaurant and $1 million for the 3,700-square-foot food court.

An open-kitchen design will teach students soft skills, such as smiling in public view, positive sanitation habits and respect for the kitchen, while the food court will feature three student-operated kiosks showcasing specialty foods.

The Culinary Institute also will allow for more community outreach, Guerra said, including creating pathways from high school programs and partnering with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Southwest Washington to show children “the options they can create through college to be more successful in their lives.”

Other opportunities to partner with the Culinary Institute include backing the $750,000 production kitchen, $500,000 baking kitchen, $300,000 bakery or $250,000 cake room.

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