Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Sun Valley: A new culinary destination?

Institute could put valley on foodie map

Express Staff Writer

Though chefs like Cristina Cook have put Sun Valley on the map as a place for food lovers, it could become even more of a foodie destination if a plan now underway by Sustain Blaine economic development group and College of Southern Idaho takes shape.

Sustain Blaine Executive Director Harry Griffith announced last week during a Sustain Blaine board meeting that the group is helping to develop a business plan for a culinary institute in Sun Valley, which the group says could boost tourism.

According to a report from Jenny Davidson, College of Southern Idaho's Blaine County director, the institute would contain three components: professional culinary training, "destination" cooking classes and short cooking demonstrations and workshops.

CSI already offers three separate programs in culinary arts, ranging from a full 65-credit associate degree to a 15-credit postsecondary certificate. But Davidson states in the report that a culinary institute in Blaine County could support the existing restaurants and resort businesses in Sun Valley by providing professionally trained potential employees.

Griffith said he believed the "destination" cooking classes, in which local and celebrity guest chefs would conduct weekend or weeklong cooking courses, would draw more tourists to the valley.

"You might come here because you have [Food Network chef] Cat Cora here for a week," Griffith told board members. "If somebody comes into town and the husband is biking but the wife wants to take a weeklong class on Italian cooking, we can arrange that."

However, several local organizations such as the Sawtooth Botanical Garden and the Sustainability Center already offer cooking workshops, which could compete with the culinary institute's proposed classes.

Le Cordon Bleu, the renowned international culinary school, already operates programs in Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and Las Vegas, which could provide some regional competition for the future institute.

Davidson said that having the future school serve as an "umbrella" organization for all culinary classes in the valley could ease objections from local competition.

Griffith said Sustain Blaine is currently in the midst of forming a business plan and funding model for the school. The institute could provide up to 10 new jobs, he said, though the early years of the institute will be "thin on profit."

Davidson estimated that a grant of $55,000 would be required to start the institute and make up the difference between startup and operating costs for the first year compared with tuition and income from the first year.

But Griffith said the benefits of the institute could far outweigh initial costs.

"It's early days," he said during Sun Valley's Capital for a Day event last Wednesday. "But this could help put Idaho on the map, and we think it's something that could be very powerful for helping drive economic development here."

Katherine Wutz:

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