Excitement builds ahead of Clark College’s culinary re-launch

The Tod and Maxine McClaskey Culinary Institute will offer students a variety of educational pathways

Construction continues on the Tod and Maxine McClaskey Culinary Institute at Clark College.

As construction on Clark College’s new culinary facility enters its final months, school officials are brimming with excitement about the culinary program’s return and what it means for the local community.

Spurred by a $4 million donation from the Tod and Maxine McClaskey Foundation in 2016, Clark College launched a complete renovation of their culinary program, which has been on hiatus since 2013. Tearing down three outdated buildings, the college began plans to build a 20,615-square-foot facility, including a new outdoor patio, in order to create a state-of-the-art facility that will give students a cutting edge learning experience.

“This new facility will provide an immediate positive impact for both the college community and the culinary programs,” said Dr. Tim Cook, vice president of instruction at Clark College. “We are able to provide students with career-focused, affordable culinary education at a time when many other local programs are closing their doors.”

With plans to open in time for classes to begin in September, the revamped program will offer students a variety of certification and degree possibilities in either the field of Cuisine Management or Professional Baking and Pastry Arts. Pathways include:

– One-year Certificate of Achievement (CA)

– Two-year Associate of Applied Technology (AAT)

– Four-year degrees with Clark College’s Bachelor of Applied Science (BASc) in Applied Management degree program

– Transfer partnership agreements (with, for example, Washington State University Vancouver)

The new culinary building will feature an ‘open-air’ design for the public to both view daily operations and explore diverse dining choices. These options will be displayed in the form of various kiosks, featuring international and comfort foods as well as one completely dedicated to local farms and businesses.

For this upcoming fall semester, the Tod and Maxine McClaskey Culinary Institute will incorporate three open kiosks, a full-service baking retail store and barista bar, and grab-and-go salads and sandwiches. Next year, a fourth kiosk and student-run restaurant will open.

“The newly designed building will feature three different dining kiosks, ran internally by Clark College, which will allow our students to gain the valuable ‘hands-on’ experience and ‘soft skills’ needed to be successful in today’s food service industry,” explained Robert Frederick, cuisine instructor for the Culinary Institute at Clark College.

Reflecting the updated look of the program, the curriculum also plans to innovate, providing a ‘back-to-basics’ approach to teaching that will combine the fundamentals of culinary arts with the real-world experience of feeding a campus of more than 16,000 students.

“The truth is, a lot of the content is the same – a lot of the content that’s been stripped away as far as old traditions and some of the things that help create a deeper understanding with the students that other schools have kind of allowed to be in the background or not be as presented, we’re reincorporating,” said Aaron Guerra, head of the school’s cuisine program. “The real difference in the curriculum isn’t what each test asks necessarily; it’s the delivery by industry individuals – it’s our experience and our delivery of the curriculum.”

Echoing this revisited form of teaching is the renewed importance on farm-to-table sourcing and creating student awareness about where their food originates.

“Farm-to-table teaching should always be a part of a culinary school’s curriculum, as it is the most fundamental part of cuisine,” said Frederick. “True culinarians realize that there is ‘nothing new under the sun’ – it’s just that most people have lost sight of where real food actually comes from.”

Similarly, Guerra recognizes that having this new facility and an eclectic community that allows farm-to-table teaching to be truly accessible is a blessing that not all culinary schools experience; it’s also a desire that’s becoming more and more prevalent.

“In the culinary schools, having [a] facility that can [support] farm-to-table truly is something that’s been building for the last decade and now it’s not just a bonus, it’s an expectation,” said Guerra. “In the Portland area, we have a lot of great resources, and so we all try very hard to make sure that we’re sourcing and teaching the kids based on farm-to-table the best that we can.”

Alison Dolder, head of the school’s Professional Baking and Pastry Arts program, added that teaching the importance of food sourcing not only creates sustainability efforts, but also generates relationships within the Vancouver community.

“We’ve been working on cultivating relationships with some of our local farmers,” she said. “Doing so will provide our students with the opportunity to get out and meet the people who grow the food we use, and to learn how to cook and bake seasonally with fresh ingredients. Supporting local farmers helps to maintain a strong, local economy – it’s about building a network of partners in the industry; it has a ripple effect.”

With such an assorted restaurant scene in downtown Vancouver, Dolder believes the location of the Institute will only add to the idea of locality.

“The greater Vancouver restaurant scene is very vibrant and becoming more diverse; the McClaskey Culinary Institute is right in the center of all the action,” said Dolder. “We’ll be able to teach and to mold bakers, chefs, pastry chefs and future entrepreneurs who will add to Vancouver’s vitality.”

With one-year certificate options available for less than $7,000 and two-year degree options at less than $14,000, the Tod and Maxine McClaskey Culinary Institute at Clark College provides an associate’s degree tuition that is less than half the tuition costs of the former Le Corden Bleu/Western Culinary and the Oregon Culinary Institute programs.

“Our main goal is the education, not taking your money,” said Guerra.

“Students are going to be able to walk away with something viable that they can use to take their career forward and not have a $600 a month payment for 15 years…” he added.

Ultimately, school officials hope to give students the opportunity to learn culinary skills in a competitive program and in a modernized facility that will afford them the experience needed to succeed in the job market.

“The students will leave the program well prepared to handle the rigorous demands of the food service industry because of our focus on fundamentals, ‘soft’ and critical thinking skills, and the repetition of food service skills that come along with feeding over 16,000 students on campus daily,” said Frederick.

Learn about the Tod and Maxine McClaskey Culinary Institute

Clark College will host a pair of information sessions next month to give the community opportunities to learn about the program, meet faculty and staff, and ask questions. The sessions will take place on:

  • Monday, July 10, 6-7 p.m.
  • Wednesday, July 19, 6-7 p.m.

Both sessions will be held in the Penguin Union Building (PUB) 161 at Clark College, 1933 Fort Vancouver Way, in Vancouver.