Hiding behind a giant apron, the new Miami Culinary Institute in downtown Miami awaited its unveiling yesterday morning. Outside, guests helped themselves to non-alcoholic spritzers and small bites inside a large tent set up in a blocked-off section of Northeast Second Avenue in front of the school. Stilt walkers in chef’s coats moved among the crowd. Groups toured the building.
It was a good day for Miami. The official launch of the 34,000-square-foot school offered a glimpse at what Miami-Dade College hopes will change the face of Miami’s culinary education. On the surface, it may sound like any other culinary school – it offers an associate degree in culinary arts, and will offer continuing education for culinary professionals and classes for enthusiasts who want to learn about food and wine – but this one has some exciting things going for it.
To start, the curriculum is focused on environmentally sustainable food practices, a good thing at a time when the social, economic and environmental implications of food production are garnering so much attention. The school will have a garden on site and has partnered with local organizations to develop community gardens in underserved areas. It has also enlisted a group of high-profile local chefs – Norman Van Aken, Michael Schwartz, Michelle Bernstein, Cindy Hutson, Douglas Rodriguez, Allen Susser, Rudi Sodamin and Philippe Ruiz – to help in developing the curriculum. And, well, its state-of-the art, LEED-certified (green) building is quite nice.
On eight floors it houses five teaching labs, one demonstration lab (called the food and wine theater) and one commercial kitchen. When I arrived, I skipped the food and drink in the tents and went straight for the tour, which started in the building’s lobby coffee bar and then took me to the food and wine theater, a kitchen lab and the school’s restaurant.
I was most impressed by the food and wine theater on the third floor. The room looks like the set of a cooking show; it has a fully equipped kitchen, wine coolers, wine tasting stations and fully wired to stream video from other locations. As our guide explained, if students are learning about Italian wines, they can have an Italian winemaker in Italy give a talk through video.
Back in the elevator, my group headed to another floor to see one of the school’s kitchen labs where students were at work and then we moved to our final stop at the restaurant.
Located on the top floor, it’s a great room with glass doors, wave-like ceiling fixtures and a nice view of downtown. It will be open to the public though the opening date hasn’t been set.
Back outside, we heard from MDC directors and chef John Richards, the director of the culinary institute, before the apron dropped to reveal the building’s glass façade. MDC’s president, Eduardo Padrón, called the opening of the culinary school a “very important moment in the life of our city,” an opportunity “to take Miami’s culinary scene to another level.” From what I saw and heard, I feel like he may be onto something and while only time will show us how the school grows and develops, I’m excited by what it could do for Miami’s culinary industry.