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Gourmet future? College of Technology expansion could mean big things for culinary school

The University of Montana’s plan for a new College of Technology building is in legislative/economic limbo. But if and when it finally happens, the culinary arts department hopes to make itself the most ambitious program of its kind between Denver and Seattle, if not in all the Rockies and Northwest.

“Part of that campus would be a completely new culinary arts wing,” says program director Thomas Campbell. “And that wing would have more kitchens [including] a bake shop, a demonstration kitchen, an a la carte kitchen and a utility kitchen. There would be a full-service dining room, a patio for outside dining, an herb garden, composting and pulping of the food products, and solar panels.”

The curriculum would also grow. The current program, where students earn either a one-year culinary arts certificate or a two-year associate’s degree in food service management, would still exist, but there would also be a baking and pastry track and a “food processing” track. Students who opt for all three would receive a four-year bachelor’s degree in culinary arts, something the state (and the majority of private culinary schools) does not currently offer.

“The idea is to introduce the student to the future of the food service business, because it’s not going to be like it is now,” says Campbell.

He’s most excited about the processing curriculum, which would include slaughter and butchery as well as all the different types of preservation (smoking, drying, sausage-making). As anyone who’s read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma knows, farmers are often limited in what and how they sell directly to consumers, by both federal regulations and the lack of available facilities.

“Right now there’s some food processing going on in this state, but it’s very, very limited,” Campbell says. “There’s not a facility, and there’s no training. So consequently, the product raised here goes out of the state to be processed, and then returns to the state. The idea here is to focus more on local product. To work with the Montana Department of Agriculture, with the Montana Beef Producing Association, with local farms and local food processors.”

Campbell estimates planning and construction of the wing would take five years, assuming the state eventually signs off on the project.

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