Article and photos by Janet Schultz
Fifty years ago, Niagara County Community College was founded and, a year later, the college opened its doors to 343 students in downtown Niagara Falls. On Sept. 4, NCCC opened doors to the Niagara Falls Culinary Institute, just four blocks from the original site of NCCC.
The 90,000 square-foot Niagara Falls Culinary Institute is located in a renovated and re-energized Rainbow Center Mall, which was donated to the NCCC Foundation Inc. by Baltimore Developer David Cordish.
As you enter the building, the lobby is wide open with tables and chairs that invite you to sit down after you have purchased some pastries from the pastry shop or a sandwich from the New York-style deli. Or you can choose to dine in Savor, the fine-dining restaurant with an open floor plan to allow guests to watch their meals being prepared.
Once you finish eating, you can shop in the bookstore that combines the regular items from Barnes and Noble but adds in those items normally found at a retailer like William Sonoma.
Your last stop on the first floor must be the wine boutique, where you will sample local wines. Behind it is a mixology lab where students will study wines on modern tables with lit bottoms for viewing wines by the glass.
The second floor brings you to the heart of education with 25 teaching labs, classrooms, seminar rooms and a theater classroom. All but three of the kitchens are multi-purpose. Those three are temperature-controlled for candy-making, pastry and occasional cake preparation and one for cured meats. There is also a community education classroom that, while containing institutional grade equipment, has a down-home feel for learning and an attached dining room to serve what was prepared in class. Next to "Mise en Place," as the community education room is labeled, is a youth program room that contains two teaching areas: one for youngsters to learn healthy eating, and the other a cooking kitchen for youth ages 12 to 18.
"The college offered kids cooking camps the past two summers," said Mark Mistriner, chairman of the business and hospitality division at NCCC. "We plan to do that again next year."
There is also a business resource center where persons who have been clients of NCCC's Small Business Development Center, and other such centers across New York, can sell their jams, jellies, sauces and other edible products at the retail test boutique. It also contains a test kitchen, conference room and offices for small business incubators, as well as the Niagara Small Business Development Center.
"It's like a business incubator," Mistriner said. "It's another way to retail locally made goods."
On the third floor is a library with a fantastic view of the Niagara Falls skyline to the north.
"We researched a number of culinary schools in the country," explained Mistriner. "We made our kitchens to be multi-purpose so we aren't restricted when placing classes and we built the institute so the community and tourists can enjoy it.
"We hit a home run with our facility," said Mistriner, who was named the 2012 American Culinary Federation Northeast Region chef educator of the year.
"Our facility is one of the top three or four in the country," he said.
The institute, which has approximately 350 students, has a capacity for 1,000 students and currently employs seven full-time faculty members and 10 part-time faculty.
"What's unique about our faculty is that they all have worked in the industry and they all have their master's degrees in education," Mistriner said.
Mistriner also explained that bus tours are being developed that package the culinary institute with the sites of Western New York. Some tours will include a chance to take a class at the institute.
Funding for the $25 million project came from public and private partners, the New York State Development Corp., Niagara County, the City of Niagara Falls and private foundations.
The students are enthusiastic about being the first to use the facility.
Donald Mancuso and Joe Doan are second-year students. While they found the NCCC campus facility to be nice, they are thrilled about the institute.
"It's going to be a great experience to work in a new facility," Mancuso said. "This place is immaculate."
"It's good to have a fresh start and you aren't as crowded here as at the old place," Doan said.
While it was a stressful time for Mistriner making the opening this semester, he smiled with pride announcing that the deli and pastry shops would be open later this month, the wine boutique early in October, and Savor by the third week of October.
"Nothing compares to it in Western New York," he said.