Ambitiously preparing students to enter the hospitality industry, this new culinary institute exposes participants to exhibition cooking in a variety of restaurant environments, including haute cuisine, casual dining, French bakery and much more.
Niagara Falls Culinary Institute (NCFI) is exceeding lofty expectations for a successful public-private partnership. In its first year the school enrolled 350 students and is now on track to enroll 1,000 students within 5 years.Approaching its first anniversary,
Building a state-of-the-art culinary center for students at Niagara County Community College (NCCC) was a longtime dream of the college's president, James Klyczek, Ph.D., and culinary institute professor and college division chair for business and hospitality programs, Mark Mistriner, CEC, AAC. The college's original culinary program had been in place for 20 years at the 50-year-old NCCC, which is located on a rural campus in Sanborn, N.Y. "The aim of the new institute was to offer students the opportunity to learn in a state-of-the-art environment geared to combining hands-on experience in the kitchen with classroom training and real-life restaurant and retail experience," Klyczek says. That meant finding a location that was closer to the city of Niagara Falls and its tourist business.
Klyczek and Mark Mistriner, along with members of the design team, which included architect Mike Mistriner (Mark's brother) at Cannon Design and foodservice consultants William and Pamela Eaton at Cini-Little International, toured many potential locations in the Niagara Falls area assessing the pros and cons of each and making recommendations for the final site selection. "During the seven years we looked for a site, we overcame obstacles such as county legislators' and local business owners' concerns that our restaurants would hurt local operators," Klyczek says. "We asked them to be part of the planning process and sit on our advisory board."
Throughout the planning process, Klyczek kept in mind the college's mission to integrate book learning with hands-on training in a state-of-the-art setting. "We explained to members of the community that we were not competing with existing restaurants, but rather creating a labor force that would ultimately help the community." Niagara Falls attracts approximately 8 million visitors a year, according to Sandra Thomason, director of the Niagara Falls Chamber of Commerce in New York. She says the Canadian area around the Falls has about two and a half times more visitors than the U.S. side. Business development will help attract more visitors to the U.S. side, she says.
Late in the review process, a national developer, the Baltimore-based Cordish Companies, stepped forward and gifted the abandoned, multistory Rainbow Centre in downtown Niagara Falls to the NCCC Foundation. The Foundation, in turn, donated the property to the city, which deeded 90,000 square feet back to the college and then cancelled the lease. The college now owns one-third of the former mall property, which had been unoccupied for more than 10 years.
"Most rewarding for us is that many who opposed the project and saw it as not feasible or in the wrong location are now behind it," Klyczek says. "There were a lot of roadblocks, but we got through them."
In 2012 the $26 million Niagara Falls Culinary Institute opened its doors. Klyczek says that 4 years ago the hospitality programs enrolled 125 students at its original location. Current enrollment is 400 students, and the school expects that figure to grow to 1,000 within 5 years.
Feedback from the first class of students "has been extremely positive," Klyczek says. "The integrated academic, lab and retail experience they receive here is without comparison in the region. Students are excited to have the opportunity to live, work and study in one of the Northeast's hubs of tourism."
Working in labs and retail facilities, students can earn one or more of seven associate's degrees in culinary arts, baking and pastry arts, gaming and casino management, hospitality, restaurant management, tourism management and event planning, and winery operations. One-year certificates are offered in all of these fields as well, with the exception of restaurant management.
A critical part of the school's development process was determining the type of equipment and culinary lab setup that would be appropriate for students entering a sophisticated hospitality industry. "We made about 24 site visits, looking at a lot of culinary schools to determine what we should offer," Mark Mistriner says. "We want to offer a top-of-the-line education and experience, but make it affordable." On average, students pay $2,000 per semester for tuition. Room and board, college fees and books are separate costs.
Providing students with retail experience is an integral part of NFCI's educational mission, which is why all the retail facilities are open to the public.
Support areas include bulk storage, a lab staging kitchen, a break room, and a main-floor receiving area where food deliveries for all of the retail operations and classrooms arrive. Students and staff distribute food to the ground-floor retail operations and use a freight elevator to transport food to the academic teaching labs on the second floor.
The fine-dining restaurant, Savor, contains dry storage, a walk-in cooler and a freezer. The other retail operations contain dry storage and upright refrigerators and small freezers.
For Savor, the production area holds combi ovens and blast chillers, a cooking suite and hearth oven so students can learn to cure bacon, brine pickles, butcher meats and slice potatoes for chips and French fries.
For guests in the dining room, Savor's exhibition-style kitchen provides full views of all activities at the cooking suite and pizza oven. The dining room seats 65 people in the main area and 20 in a private dining area that also has a small bar. A 10-seat chef's table sits inside the kitchen for customers who want to have an up-close-and-personal experience. The lounge seats 16 guests who can enjoy beverages there and order from Savor's menu.
Currently the restaurant averages about 120 covers a night. This number fluctuates during tourist seasons. Ideally, Mark Mistriner says, the restaurant will average 100 covers nightly. Lunch business has been steady at 40 to 50 covers and is anticipated to grow to 80.
"We selected an exhibition-style restaurant because we want students to learn how to work in a neat, clean and quiet environment where the chef expedites in the dining room and interacts with the guests," says Mark Mistriner.
In the restaurant's kitchen, an island cooking suite contains a 6-burner range, 36-inch char grill, 2 pasta cookers, a fryer, a 36-inch French top and a 48-inch steam well. The kitchen equipment also includes combi ovens, a blast chiller and a hearth oven for appetizers and entrées as well as pizza. "We set up a classic Escoffier brigade system in which everything is passed to the front so students can learn this method of food preparation," Mark Mistriner says. "This method is also used so à la carte prep can be on one side and event prep on the other, which is an efficient way to organize production."
In addition to Margherita, seafood and steak-and-cheese pizzas, menu items at Savor include seasonal salads, pasta dishes such as spaghetti alla Carbonara and Maine lobster ravioli, burgers, chicken, Maine lobster rolls, pulled pork, beef sandwiches, carpaccio, jumbo lump crab cakes, wild Chilean sea bass, chicken entrées, ahi tuna, scallops, salmon and pork chops.
Dessert preparation for all retail operations takes place in the baking and pastry labs on the first floor. Here, students learn to prepare bread, cakes, muffins, pies and pastries using mixers, chocolate temperers and more specialized equipment such as candy-dipping machines and glazing machines. Baked goods are also sold to local retail establishments such as the Seneca Nation Casino and Hotel. "This allows students to obtain volume production experience," Mark Mistriner says.
Another retail facility, the Old Falls Street Deli, contains upright refrigerators as well as a pair of six-foot-long refrigerated sandwich units, one for salads and the other for sandwiches. Staff use a panini press to heat sandwiches. Soups, prepared in Savor kitchen, are held in bains marie.
In the French pastry shop, La Patisserie, multiple merchandising cases display chilled and ambient pastries and desserts as well as an array of gelato flavors. An espresso machine provides visitors, staff and students with a choice of beverages.
"Though the college chose not to pursue formal accreditation, the building is designed for LEED silver certification," says architect Mike Mistriner.
Among the chief sustainable features are the demand ventilation hoods that slow down and ramp up according to volume usage. In addition to conserving energy, the hoods also feature low air volume and low hood noise that help students hear instructors during production. According to the manufacturer, ordinary conversations range from 60 to 70 decibels, and standard commercial kitchen hoods vary from 65 to 75 decibels, which can make hearing a challenge. These hoods are calibrated at 55 decibels, a considerable noise reduction.
Other energy-saving equipment includes an energy- and water-saving dishwasher, the use of recycled and natural materials in carpeting and other design features, low-flow toilets and high-efficiency fans.
Mark Mistriner's plans for the future include a rooftop garden for growing herbs and heirloom tomatoes. He also hopes to install a rooftop greenhouse that will support horticulture programs.
Also in the future, Mark Mistriner and Klyczek say they will work to grow enrollment and make the institute a strong leader of culinary education on the East Coast. "We expect to continue to expand the partnerships we have with industry professionals to provide our students with the best possible experience while they attend NFCI," Klyczek says. "We are developing plans for an on-site winery and new programs in microbrewing, massage therapy and spa management, which will broaden the options available to our students." In addition, he adds, students will be able to earn bachelor's degrees at the culinary institute beginning in the 2013-14 academic year. Most important, students are learning to use equipment that prepares them to enter the industry with basic skills and appreciation for the capability of the equipment and the care required to keep it functioning well in tough conditions.
The Institute will contain 10 labs when fully built out. Cooking labs are designed to accommodate classes of 20 students at workstations with 2 students each. The Mixology Lab and Ice Lab accommodate smaller classes.
The Basic Cuisine Lab contains two cooking suites, each with four workstations consisting of an oven, fryer, range and griddle. A salamander and charbroiler are located on each side between the stations. A combi oven and a blast chiller round out the equipment mix. A similar station sits at the front of the room for use by the instructor.
The Advanced Cuisine Lab features two cooking suites with a slightly modified layout that adds a plancha, tandoor oven and wok, in addition to a combi and blast chiller.
In the Bakery Lab, students learn their trade with large-scale production equipment including a roll-in oven, deck ovens, a variety of mixers, proofers and other support equipment. A pastry production area allows students to participate in the preparation of pastries and baked goods sold at the on-site retail areas and to local businesses. Pastry II Lab focuses on high-end and specialty items made in a chocolate room with chocolate temperers, induction cookers, marble workstations and candy-dipping machines.
The Garde Manger Lab contains prep equipment such as buffalo choppers and food processors and standard cooking equipment including slow cookers, smokers and a cured meats display case.
The Mixology Lab includes both wine tasting stations and two full bar setups.
NFCI will fit out the Saucier Lab at a later date with standard cooking equipment and braising pans and kettles.
The Ice Lab supports classes that provide instruction in ice carving and includes a block freezer, lathe and block lifter.
For continuing education, the Tourist Lab features workstations for 10 students with an area for kids’ education. A 100-seat theatre with a demonstration cooking line supports the standard classroom areas.
“I believe the Niagara Falls Culinary Institute will become one of the best learning environments in the country as it grows,” says William (Bill) Eaton, chairman of the board, Cini-Little International. “Perseverance makes things happen, and this project is an example of perseverance at its best. The passion of Jim [Klyczek] and Mark [Mistriner] allowed this project to come together. There were many obstacles and challenges. For example, the project started in 2008 when a site at a hotel was selected. The restaurant was designed and equipment purchased. But the hotel went into bankruptcy. So the equipment had to go into storage. When we had the new space, we had to figure out how to fit the new equipment into the new space. We toured The NAFEM Show in 2011 with Mark and identified new equipment partners. We bought several new pieces of equipment for the restaurant, but we were able to use all equipment we had originally purchased.”
The architects’ involvement began even earlier, in 2005. “We helped the president explore possible sites, but the money wasn’t yet available,” says Mike Mistriner, principal at Cannon Design, the architects and interior designers who won the bid for the current institute in 2010.
“We all faced many challenges, but probably the most significant was the existing structure of the Rainbow Centre, a former parking garage converted to a shopping mall and food court, which had stood vacant for nearly 20 years,” says Mike Mistriner.
The condition of the abandoned building also presented daunting challenges for the entire design and construction team. “We had to work around leaks, mold and cracks,” Bill Eaton says.
“The challenges of inserting components into the existing building included addressing the structure’s massive ventilation requirements, incorporating entirely new engineering systems, addressing multiple floor elevation changes, and addressing myriad structural engineering issues,” Mike Mistriner says.
The SolutionsThe construction team had to complete a complicated and challenging demolition and abatement
process. “ This process was a success due to close owner/architect/construction manager communication and coordination,” Mike Mistriner says.
And Mistriner explains, “Building space planning was carefully executed to work around elevation changes.” The existing floor slabs had multiple changes in elevation, so an extensive accessibility plan designed new ramps and stairs to unify levels.
The design firm worked with Cini-Little International to conduct detailed engineering studies to ensure proper gas, power and water supplies.
Dramatically changing structural loading issues required the removal and replacement of existing concrete floor decks.
The culinary program involves extensive HVAC, exhaust ventilation, plumbing, and electrical requirements. Great care, detail and coordination were required to coordinate these services with the laboratory planning layouts. “When designing the new space, the existing column structure had to be maintained and we had to reconfigure everything we had done for the hotel space. To conserve space we had to use more cooking suites than we had planned in the first facility,” Bill Eaton says. “They are more expensive but saved square footage. Throughout the demolitions and construction process we had to make continual adjustments to make sure the equipment fit in the allotted space.”
“The quantity of hoods — three hoods per large lab — was enormous,” says Pam Eaton, LEED AP, senior associate and project manager at Cini-Little International. And the quantity of hoods presented challenges for HVAC and exhaust ventilation. “This building doesn’t have a roof on which to place the remote compressors, chillers and condensing units,” says Mike Mistriner. “So, we had to put these on level four of the parking structure and slide them under the deck so they aren’t a visual eyesore and aren’t in the way of the parked cars.”
If all the building challenges weren’t enough, a late August deadline presented unique challenges, as well, says Pam Eaton, Bill Eaton’s daughter. “A lot of coordination was required to be sure that we received the equipment that had been committed on time as per the schedule.” Bringing in natural light presented still more difficulties for the design team. “The building had a typical shopping mall façade and no glass windows,” Bill Eaton says. “So the architects completely reconfigured two sides of the building and installed windows and brought in natural light.”
Bill Eaton is a respected leader in the hospitality industry, whose career has spanned 40 years, including time spent in the commercial restaurant segment, engineering, design, and all areas of the foodservice industry. His consulting experience extends over all segments of foodservice with responsibility for managing a diverse range of assignments. Holding a bachelor’s degree in hotel administration from Cornell University, he is past president and fellow of the Foodservice Consultants Society International, as well as a life member of the Cornell University Council. Eaton also held leadership roles with the Society for Foodservice Management, Foodservice Innovation Network, Food Facilities Consultants Society and Cornell Hotel Society.
Pam Eaton is known for her understanding of not only the opportunities and challenges of foodservice design projects, but also how commercial foodservice facilities impact the environment. Designated a LEED Accredited Professional by the United States Green Building Council, Eaton has worked on numerous projects that have achieved the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction and operation of green buildings. Notable projects include the LEED Gold-rated Stoddert Elementary School in Washington, D.C., and the LEED Silver-rated Yorktown High School in Arlington, Va. All of her federal projects are certifiable at a LEED Silver level or higher.
Prior to joining Cini-Little in 1996, she gained experience in hospitality and foodservice management for 10 years through employment in the hotel and restaurant industry with varied responsibilities in restaurant management, sales, bookkeeping and front desk management. She earned a bachelor’s degree in hotel and restaurant management from Cornell University. She is a professional member of Foodservice Consultants Society International (FCSI) and serves on FCSI’s ICON Committee.
Dr. Klyczek first joined NCCC in 2001 as executive vice president and dean of academic affairs and since 2002 has served as president of Niagara County Community College. Prior to NCCC he served in numerous teaching and administrative positions at D’Youville College and the State University of New York (SUNY) Buffalo from 1981 until 2001. In addition to teaching at both D’Youville and SUNY Buffalo, he also taught at the University of Pittsburgh and University of Maryland, European division, in both Heidelberg and Bad Kissingen, Germany.
A 1987 graduate of NCCC’s culinary program, Mistriner worked for Hyatt Hotels and Radisson Hotels as an executive chef and also owned and operated the Pastry Table Bakery. He joined the college in 1995, and took on his current responsibilities in 2011. Mistriner was named the American Culinary Federation’s (ACF) Northeast Regional Chef Educator of the year for 2012. He has served the ACF of Greater Buffalo as vice president, director at large, certification chair and apprenticeship chair. Mistriner has served on the Niagara Falls tourism advisory committee for the past four years and is involved in many community events. In 2013, Mistriner was selected into the American Academy of Chefs and inducted at the ACF National convention in Las Vegas. “I grew up in Niagara Falls, so I feel personally committed to helping revitalize the city,” he says.
During his 22-year career, Mistriner has dealt with many challenging issues, including facilitating and leading diverse program committees, integrating the elements of building design and planning, renovating, and integrating historically sensitive buildings into existing streetscapes. In his leadership role, he is responsible for advancing the higher education practice of the firm. He is the recipient of many awards, including AIA’s Honor Award for interior architecture, national chapter, 2004, as well as a published author and frequent speaker at national and regional conferences, including the Association of College and University Housing Officers (ACUHO).