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Stakeholders discuss possible culinary institute in downtown Fargo

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FARGO – Start with a world-class higher education system. Sprinkle in bountiful local food and restaurants. Add a dash of a thriving downtown.

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Mix these ingredients together, and Margie Bailly said it could make for a “successful recipe” for a new culinary institute in downtown Fargo.

Bailly and about 40 others gathered Monday at Mezzaluna to set the vision for such an institute, an item on the wish lists of many civic leaders here for years.

But there are still loose ends to finalize before new programs or facilities would materialize.

Bailly, the former Fargo Theatre executive director, said conversations about a culinary institute have been ongoing since at least 2010, both because of the bountiful locally grown and produced food, and the possible recruitment and retention of young people the program could spur.

“I just gathered together people in hospitality and tourism and from the academic perspective, trying to ascertain is there a way we can develop a curriculum that somehow connects what we’re already doing and the research that we’re doing,” she said.

The situation is now at a “tipping point,” Bailly said, especially since she met with North Dakota State University President Dean Bresciani and North Dakota State College of Science President John Richman last fall to discuss partnering together.

The conversation has “ramped up” after Monday’s meeting, and she said the next step is to create a steering committee that can put together the key pieces, including funding, staffing and location.

NDSCS offers a two-year associate degree in culinary arts on its Wahpeton campus, Richman said. The program prepares students for a variety of jobs in the food service industry and focuses on training skills more than managerial topics.

NDSU offers a bachelor’s degree in hospitality management, Bresciani said, though it doesn’t have the kind of technical education found at NDSCS. By partnering together, he said the sum could be greater than the separate parts – and the institutions could pool the curriculum already in place to make it possible.

“It’s bringing the expertise of the two colleges together,” he said.

Minnesota State Community and Technical College also offers a culinary arts program on its Moorhead campus. Attempts to reach college officials for comment were unsuccessful.

The exact nature of a possible partnership between NDSU and NDSCS is yet to be determined.

“If the interest and demand is there, then the actions will get more detailed and more involved about how do we fund it, what’s the budget, what’s the operation, how do we utilize the expertise at NDSU and NDSCS in collaboration with the driving forces behind this,” Richman said. “There are a lot of discussions that have to happen.”

Richman said a new venture also could open up the possibility of offering short courses to non-degree-seeking students – a pastry class, for example, for interested local residents.

The two schools also might be able to offer new certifications in addition to the degrees already available, he said.

It would make sense to locate this project in downtown Fargo, which boasts a “huge demand and interest in food and arts,” and also faces a shortage of trained workers to fill positions, Bresciani said.

He said the new institute could also be a way to fill another downtown need – more hotel space – adding there’s the potential to blend a culinary institute with a boutique hotel and restaurant where the two industries could combine.

Faculty and academic leaders from the two schools have met to discuss the possibilities, Bailly is spearheading early talks about a culinary institute, but said she’ll step back to let the stakeholders, including Kilbourne Group, local chefs and vendors, finalize plans if it moves forward.

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Ryan Johnson
After four years of covering news for the Grand Forks Herald and The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, Ryan Johnson has been a features reporter for The Forum's Variety section since 2013. His prior beats included politics, business, city government and higher education. Johnson is a 2008 alumnus of the University of North Dakota. Have a comment to share about a story? Letters to the editor should include author’s name, address and phone number. Generally, letters should be no longer than 250 words. All letters are subject to editing. Send to letters@forumcomm.com
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