September 10, 2009
| By Pete Daly |
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MUSKEGON — Downtown Muskegon will be seeing a lot of new faces come Sept. 28 — along with a new full-service restaurant and a new pastry/coffee shop. That's when the doors open at the new $11 million home of the Baker College of Muskegon Culinary Institute of Michigan.

Baker has operated a culinary school in Muskegon since 1997, starting with 40 students. This fall, it will have a record number of culinary arts students — "somewhere between 300 and 325," according to John Cappellucci, the new dean of culinary programs at Baker in Muskegon.

Cappellucci, who was hired last winter, said the culinary school had about 285 students enrolled last year, taking classes on the original Baker campus at 1903 Marquette Ave., a couple of miles east of downtown Muskegon. The new culinary school is in Muskegon's revitalized downtown area, on the corner of Third Street and West Clay Avenue, adjacent to the site of the former Muskegon Mall.

In close proximity is the new Hines Building, which houses the Muskegon Area Chamber of Commerce and several businesses; the new Sidock Building, which recently received Silver LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council; the Frauenthal Center for Performing Arts, a major West Michigan cultural venue; and the Muskegon Museum of Art. Nearby is the popular new restaurant/sports bar, the Muskegon Athletic Club.

Construction on the three-story, 39,000-square-foot Culinary Institute of Michigan began in May 2008 with Clifford Buck Construction Co. Inc. as the general contractor and Bosma Architects & Associates PC providing architectural design.

The new public restaurant on the ground floor is called Courses — "sort of a play on the education and the food," said Cappellucci. A second student-run business, also open to the public, is The Sweet Spot, a coffee shop/bakery outlet.

Courses, a full-service restaurant with liquor license, will have seating for 72 and "will be staffed primarily with students — one of the final classes they complete before they go on to graduate," said Cappellucci. "They'll be running just about all aspects of the operation, both in front of the house and in back of the house."

"We have some plans to expand out to a patio area, probably the beginning of next spring," he added.

As dean of culinary arts, Cappellucci is responsible for the continuing development of the program at Baker’s Muskegon campus and general oversight of the completion of the new school.

“John brings a wealth of culinary arts education expertise and professional experience to Baker College,” said Mary Ann Herbst, Baker College of Muskegon president. “We are thrilled that he has accepted the challenge to bring CIM to completion and to enhance Baker’s position as a leader in culinary arts education.”

Cappellucci, 41, was most recently with The Art Institutes International Minnesota, where he was academic director of culinary arts for four years. Prior to that, he developed the culinary arts associate of applied science degree program at Tidewater Community College, in Norfolk, Va. Under his tutelage, enrollment grew from 18 to more than 200 students. Cappellucci also spearheaded the first homeport-training program in culinary arts for the U.S. Navy, and was responsible for training the East Coast fleet and flag officers. Other professional chef experience includes the Greenwich Country Club, Greenwich, Conn.; Colonial Williamsburg Properties, Williamsburg, Va.; Kings Mill Resort, Williamsburg; Royal Sonesta Hotel, New Orleans; Ocean Grille, Birmingham, Mich.; and the Rochester City Grille, Rochester, Mich.

Cappellucci, who holds an Associate of Occupational Science degree from the Culinary Institute of America and a bachelor’s degree in hotel and restaurant management from James Madison University, Harrisburg, Va., is now working on a master's degree. He was one of 25 chefs that represented the United States in the seventh annual Zhiweiguan International Food Exhibition in Hangzhou, China, in 2006. He was also Chef Educator of the Year at the Minneapolis Chapter of the American Culinary Federation, 2006-2007.

The CIM features a special humidity and temperature-controlled kitchen for preparation of recipes that include significant quantities of chocolate and sugar, according to Cappellucci.

"These make a difference when you are making chocolate candies or sculptures," he said. "Humidity control is important for pulled and blown sugar pieces; it affects how brittle and pliable the hot sugar will be."

"We can take things to a different level with our baking and pastry program," he said, which should soon be evident behind the counters at The Sweet Spot.

The third floor of the CIM features the Culinary Innovation Center, a large demonstration kitchen with auditorium-style seating for 42 students. High definition cameras will enable the recording and broadcast of food preparation by visiting chefs.

Cappellucci said the school is working to move toward less use of paper in its culinary classes; recorded sessions in the Culinary Innovation Center will "be a virtual kind of support to what goes on in the classroom," he said.

The CMI has nine lab areas and a multi-purpose lecture area that can be one large area or three smaller ones. Each of the labs is actually a kitchen, with cooking facilities and refrigeration specifically designed for various types of food products.

Baker College of Muskegon offers two types of certification in baking and pastry preparation, an associate degree in culinary arts, an associate degree in food and beverage management, and a bachelor degree in food and beverage management.

Cappellucci said Baker College took advantage of the move of its culinary classes downtown to "rethink some of the ways we've been teaching classes in the past. We changed a little bit of how we deliver the class, meaning we looked at how much lab time the students spent" preparing and cooking food.

"We pride ourselves on trying to giving students as much hands-on experience as possible," he said, adding that those students who gravitate toward culinary arts, particularly baking and pastry, "tend to learn better by doing than by being lectured to."

What happens to all the food the students cook while learning?

"We tailor the lab environment and the production to be enough for everybody to taste each other's food, but for the most part, we don’t have a lot of doggy bags leaving the classes," said Cappellucci.

Graduates of culinary schools become chefs and head cooks, or eventually go into food service management. They typically work at restaurants, hotels, casinos and country clubs, or institutional organizations such as government facilities, hospitals and universities.

The restaurant business, according to Cappellucci, tends to be somewhat recession proof.

"Going out to eat and entertaining themselves are usually the last things people give up" in an economic downturn, he said. "We posted near 100 percent employment upon graduation" from the Baker culinary program, he said. "We don't see that changing significantly."

The National Restaurant Association, he said, predicts that "there's actually probably going to be a little bit of expansion in both line type and middle management type (food service) positions."

According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, in May 2008 the mean hourly wage of chefs and head cooks in Michigan was $19.51 and their annual mean income was $40,580. The top paying states for chefs and head cooks were New York, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Connecticut and the District of Columbia, in that order. In New York, the annual mean income was $58,390.

Baker College of Muskegon is planning a public open house Oct. 10, giving people the opportunity to tour the facilities and see student chefs at work in their classroom-kitchens, according to Cappellucci.

Baker College is the largest private college in Michigan, a nonprofit higher education institution serving more than 35,000 students on a dozen campuses around the state. Herbst said the enrollment at the Muskegon campus is expected to be about 5,500 this fall, with about 60 percent being full-time students. She said the majority of the students there are from the surrounding five counties but there are residence halls so some students attend from neighboring states, "particularly with the culinary program."

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