A new culinary and hospitality training center is opening in western Massachusetts next week. It is part of the effort to have a workforce in place when the MGM casino opens in Springfield later this year.
The $7.5 million Holyoke Community College MGM Culinary Institute has the latest and greatest of everything found in a commercial kitchen, according to professional chef and culinary arts department chairman Warren Leigh.
"This is every exciting for us," said Leigh. " It is going to change the way we teach."
Located in downtown Holyoke, the center has five kitchens, a bake shop, a walk-in refrigerator, three classrooms, a hotel laboratory, a conference room, student lounge, and dining room that seats up to 80 people. It will offer classes for people aspiring to one day own their own restaurant, get a job as a cook, or to just prepare a classic Italian meal from scratch in their home kitchen.
" We want to be the solution for everything you can think of in the food and beveridge industry in our region," said Leigh.
Maureen Hindle, a lab tech at the new center and a 2012 graduate of the culinary program at HCC, said the layout gives students a true feel for working in a restaurant kitchen.
"It allows them a more practical on-hands approach to the reality of the industry by using state-of-the-art equipment that is actually in restaurants now," said Hindle.
The new school occupies almost 20,000 square feet on the first and second floors of a former factory building in the center of Holyoke. Funding for the project came from federal, state, and local sources. MGM put in $500,000.
Classes taught at the center will allow students to complete any of HCC’s five associate degree and certificate programs in hospitality management and culinary arts. There is room for about 150 students at a time, according to Michele Cabral, Interim Dean of Business and Technology.
"Something we can do with this facility that we could not do on the main campus because we've grown to five kitchens ( from 1-and-a-half) we can run multiple programs at once," said Cabral.
There are also non-credit workforce training programs and specialized courses, according to Jeff Hayden, Vice President of Business and Community Services for HCC.
" We've worked with MGM not only to come in and demonstrate techniques and best practices but also make connections with students in terms of internships and job placements," said Hayden who added "There is a great opportunity to connect, not only with MGM, but dozens of hospitality vendors in the Pioneer Valley."
Hayden said MGM expects to hire 200 line cooks to work in the resort casino. Last year, research by the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County found 1,700 vacant food preparation and food service jobs in greater Springfield.
The new culinary arts institute officially opens Monday January 22nd when the spring semester begins.
A series of single-session evening classes in gourmet cooking and baking begin next month.