Thursday, September 24, 2009

Q&A with the Culinary Institute of Michigan's John Cappellucci

By Maggie Shea, Chef Educator Today

The final hours are ticking down on the Sept. 24 grand opening of The Culinary Institute of Michigan (CIM) at Baker College in Muskegon, Mich. The three-story, 40,000-square-foot culinary facility took 18 months to build and houses a specialty pastry lab, three hot food labs and state-of-the-art demonstration classrooms, as well as a new restaurant and pastry and coffee shop. CIM currently offers four degree programs: Culinary Arts Associate of Business, Baking and Pastry Certificate, Food and Beverage Management Associate of Business and Food and Beverage Management Bachelor of Business. Before classes officially start on Sept. 28, John Cappellucci, dean of the culinary program, took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to talk to CET about the new culinary facility and how it will bring the CIM to prominence among regional and national culinary institutes.
Final renderings of the Culinary Institute of Michigan facility

CET: How many students are currently enrolled in the four degree programs?
Cappellucci: Right now we're over 400 students. We're what's called a "right to try college," so we try to accommodate as many people as we can within the physical confines of the building. We're running classes from 7 in the morning until 11 at night, 6 days a week.

CET: How will the new facility improve on the culinary arts program offered by Baker College?
Cappellucci: We have a chocolate lab for chocolate and sugar work that's temperature- and humidity-controlled. We also have a demonstration kitchen with theater-type seating. We're going to have three high-definition cameras [in the demo kitchen] with the ability to do our own video editing and develop our own video content for our classes. In the future we'll be able to do live broadcasts right from here. The teaching kitchens also will all have flat-panel televisions that will have the capability to bring up any of the demonstrations or anything we have stored so students can view them right in the classroom for a refresher or to give students an idea of how the demos work.

CET: With the new facility, name and logo, how does it feel to make this change and sort of brand yourselves as a culinary school?
Cappellucci: Of all the campuses within the Baker College system, we're the only one that has a culinary program. In the interest of utilizing our resources to the best of our ability, we wanted to do something that wasn't just going to serve the people of Michigan, but we wanted to have a more regional presence and hopefully, within a few years, develop a national presence as well. It is definitely a branding opportunity for us. We have gorgeous facilities, and we're really going to be able to do some stupendous things here.

CET: Will Courses restaurant and The Sweet Spot pastry shop be run by students?
Cappellucci: The restaurant is exclusively run by students. There is a front- and back-of-the-house instructor, but for the most part, [the students] run the show. That's part of the curriculum. The Sweet Spot, which is our coffee and bakery outlet, will be just that--an outlet for baking and pastry products. Right now we're in the midst of hiring people. It will be student- and staff-run.

How do you plan to use the Web to help you market yourselves?
Cappellucci: Well, this project has spurned a lot of other things to happen. One is that we've tried to take some of our marketing to social networking opportunities. We're trying to have a lot more visible Web presence. We have some individuals that help us with maintaining Facebook pages and Twitter sites--things that are a little beyond my years I guess! That's a really important part. I recently read somewhere that libraries are becoming more underutilized as people go to the Web more and more to do their research. And I think when you look at the opportunity for us to have a presence as far as our own original content and the ability to do webcasts and podcasts, we'll be able to have a nice niche as far as culinary schools go. Everyone talks about opening the classroom to the world, but I think we're trying to open the world to the classroom so we can have instructors from anywhere with the ability to stream on the Web and add content to our own video library, so to speak. We're also trying to go as paperless as possible. We're going from giving multipaged, photocopied handouts to actually burning CDs for students so they have the ability to go back and reference them; it's a more durable way of saving that information.

CET:Are there ways you are being more green in your teaching kitchens?
Cappellucci:We're trying to develop a partnership with the community garden here locally. They need an opportunity to recoup some of the input costs of their efforts, and in trade, we're going to give them whatever kind of organic materials we can for their compost efforts. In return, they will also give us some of the product they're putting together. They have big plans for putting up some hoop houses [to extend the growing season] this winter, so we'll have access to fresh herbs and lettuce greens and things like that. ... We're super-excited. It's getting down to the 11th hour, and everyone's a little edgy. But it's really going to be the best culinary program that we could have put together.