On a recent day in the refurbished home of Madison Area Technical College’s culinary arts program, students in their first week of classes gathered around the white tile and stainless steel of a gleaming new cooking station to listen to an instructor’s lesson on sauces.
Through a thick door nearby, more advanced students stood in their chef’s coats before cutting boards and whole chickens in a crisp, 36-degree butchery room.
The culinary facility, which opened as classes began last week, is part of a $31 million renovation of MATC’s Truax campus that will run through next summer and also upgrade student lounges, the cafeteria and the college’s cosmetology program. Filled with new, top-of-the-line equipment, instructors say, the space will bolster the two-year culinary arts program and turn out chefs who are fully prepared to work in top restaurants.
While students had to share work stations in the prior, cramped facility, an upgraded kitchen for first-year students has enough stations for up to 20 people to have their own countertops and burners.
The advanced kitchen next door is modeled on those in professional restaurants, which program director Paul Short said is how it will run during classes. Students will be assigned specific jobs — from preparing meats or vegetables to being the “expeditor” who inspects dishes before they go out to diners — giving professors the ability to see exactly where they can improve, Short said.
“You break it down to this minutiae, and you’re able then to perfect those skills,” he said.
Along with their hands-on learning, Short said, a demonstration kitchen nearby will function as a lecture hall.
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Looking like what you might see on an infomercial or cooking show, the kitchen is arrayed in front of a room of tables and chairs. Short said the college plans to record cooking demonstrations there that can be live-streamed or posted online, and bring in top local chefs to talk with students or hold events for the broader community.
The space also has new equipment, from a blast chiller to a walk-in “cure room” students will use to make salami, prosciutto and other charcuterie, that add to the program’s offerings, Short said.
“We just have a lot of really nice options for our students to learn some other styles of cooking,” he said.
Like elsewhere in the recently reopened section of MATC’s main campus, where scaffolding and wheelbarrows could be seen as students sat at tables in the building’s new entryway, there were signs last week that renovation work isn’t quite done in the culinary facility. A butcher-block table was leaning against a wall in the advanced kitchen, not yet ready for installation; manuals for the new appliances in the demonstration kitchen were still lying out on the counter.
Work on the culinary facility is “95, 98 percent done,” Short said.
“We’re making it work,” he said.
The culinary facility, along with a reconfigured entryway on the Anderson Street side of the campus, spaces for the MATC baking program and some new meeting rooms, represent the first phase of a three-part renovation project.
The next set of projects, including a new cafeteria and kitchen for the college’s food staff, who must now share space with the culinary arts program, will wrap up in January. The project finishes a year from now with the opening of a student den and career services office next September.