Secchia Institute Seeks Kitchen Theater

September 7, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — The Grand Rapids Community College Hospitality Education Department will re-christen itself the Secchia Institute for Culinary Education during the first annual GRCC Foundation Fundraiser next month.

The event kicks off a roughly $500,000 fundraising campaign for the construction of a proposed kitchen theater in the college's AppliedTechnologyCenter. If the project moves forward, it will be the culinary program's first construction project in eight years. Over that time, the program has grown from 240 students to its current enrollment of 520.

"We're as big as we've ever been — almost doubled in that — and we're starting to push our facility space a little bit," said Randy Sahajdack, program director. "This will give us one more dedicated space, but more than that, it's the one piece that our program doesn't have that virtually all the new culinary programs around the country have."

Although plans are only preliminary at this point, the theater will resemble the kitchen auditoriums used in filming personality cooking shows such as those seen on the Food Network — only with a tighter, more intimate design. Each seat in the tightly stacked auditorium will feature power outlets for laptop computers and other devices to be used with the school's wireless Internet network. The teaching area itself will feature a full kitchen and flexible lighting and camera cabling for use with the school's multimedia efforts, including the cable access show "Cooking with Angus."

Unlike the college's regular auditorium, the kitchen theater's steep slope will allow everyone in the room to be within feet of the presentation. Such facilities will aid in lecture presentations that involve distinctive visual aids — the cuts of a butchered animal, the contents of a can of peaches — and generally complicated processes.

"If this gets built, it will be the most exciting teaching and learning space in West Michigan," said Sahajdack.

The facility is currently planned for a former robotics lab adjacent to the ATC lobby. Depending on the extent of utility relocation, the project will cost between $400,000 and $550,000. With any luck, the fundraiser will meet a significant portion of that goal. No regularly budgeted funds will be used.

"It was pretty clear after the millage that the community does not want us spending tax dollars on expansion," Sahajdack said of the college's failed millage attempt in August. "We're looking for private and creative ways to continue to be the best culinary program in this part of the country."

Local businessman and sometime restaurateur Peter Secchia has already answered that call. The former ambassador to Italy has made a substantial donation in the form of an endowment.     

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