| || When
Chef Mike Zema put out his wish list for equipment in the new Elgin Community
College Culinary Arts Center, it wasn't just sharp knives, fancy cookware and
commercial grade ovens. He also included LCD monitors and projectors, AMX controls,
DVD players, cameras, wireless mics and a host of other audio-visual equipment
that makes a culinary class at ECC a work of art. |
The $4.1 million project,
completed in August, 2004, called for the remodeling of 4,500 square feet of existing
space and the construction of an additional 16,500 square feet. The new space
includes two demonstration classrooms, two baking classrooms, offices, locker
rooms, and a Showcase Kitchen open to school's Spartan Terrace Restaurant, which
has tripled in size and can now hold over 150 guests.
program includes $500,000 worth of new kitchen equipment, $100,000 in new furniture
and another $284,000 incorporating the best in audio-visual technology in its
efforts to stay out in front of the culinary competition. Zema took a sabbatical
to work with the project's strategy committee, which included ECC technology director
| One of the baking classrooms with its
relatively simple AV system. Click
for more photos. |
| The demonstration classrooms, which feature
overhead hood vents for the student cooking workstations, offered bigger challenges
for the AV system designers. Click
for more photos. |
Fancy footwork controls
"In the old days we used to use a reflective mirror above
a cook surface, so everyone could see," said Metzger. But with larger classes
and more ambitious instructional goals, that's no longer enough. "I thought at
first we would just put up some projectors and screens and a basic sound system,"
said Tom Allison of Sound Vision, Inc. of Elgin, which designed, built and installed
the a/v systems. Such a simple system lets everyone see what the instructor is
working on in the two baking classrooms, but in the demonstration classrooms,
where more elaborate meals are prepared, a series of overhead vent hoods would
have blocked the line of site for students standing at their workstations.
Instead, Sound Vision mounted six LCD monitors in front of the student cook
stations, taking a signal from a camera aimed at the instructor's demonstration
area. With the visual displays in front of them and sound from a wireless mic,
students can follow what the instructor is doing while at work on their own culinary
An AMX touch panel at the front of each room integrates all the complex AV components into a system that's easily operated. For instance,
it's easy for the instructor to zoom in and out on the meal he's preparing, change
camera angles, call up a DVD or PowerPoint presentation, or even post a recipe
without ever using his hands for anything but cooking. The instructor can see
his choices for camera presets or auxiliary sources on the panel at his cook station,
but choose the one he wants using one of nine foot pedals mounted at the floor.
"Because they're cooking they don't want to touch the panel and get food or germs
on it," said Allison. "The foot pedals can be preset, and he can start or stop
a dedicated camera that will videotape the whole lesson."
foot pedal system is available in the Showcase Kitchen, where visiting chefs on
an elevated stage complete with stove, grill and oven, can cook a meal and share
techniques with dinner guests in the Spartan Terrace Restaurant. Every move the
chef makes, no matter how subtle, is captured by two overhead cameras, one for
close-ups and one for a long shot. The signals are sent to a trio of ceiling-mounted
projectors aimed at motorized screens at strategic points around the room. Even
when the restaurant is filled to capacity, everyone can see exactly what the chef
the guest chef is on stage, culinary students are preparing the same meal behind
the scenes in the main kitchen, only more of them. "There are eight ceiling speakers
so they can hear what's going on and they are in sync with him," said Allison.
"We installed wireless mics in every room in the center. The chef can say the
dessert is finished and they serve the dessert right on cue."
| Standard controls have some downsides in a working kitchen. That's why Sound Vision installed programmable foot pedals for hands-free systems operation in addition to the AMX touch panel. Click
for more photos of the control systems. |
chefs without fancy footwork need not be intimidated, however. A wireless touch
panel mounted at the back of the dining room allows someone else to call the shots.
"An assistant could run the show so the guest chef who comes in from France doesn't
have to be fluent in the system," said Allison. "There's also a small touch panel
in the wait staff station with a CD player so they can hit a button and control
the music, or bring up the lights."
A commercial grade wireless intercom
system with three headsets is also installed so the maitre'd and others behind
the scenes can communicate without having to run back and forth to the restaurant.
"We put a lot of thought into what's going to be the most user friendly," said
Metzger, who is planning to train 15 or 20 people on the system so they will have
plenty of backup if necessary.
are even grander plans for the Showcase Kitchen. ECC sends a small group of students
to Austria each year in a culinary exchange program. "The plan is to allow us
to transmit anywhere in the world," said Zema. "When our exchange students come
here and do demonstrations we can transmit back to Austria and vice versa." Zema
also sees an opportunity for Middleby Corporation to demonstrate its new products
in the kitchen to potential clients. One of the largest commercial food equipment
manufacturers in the country, Middleby donated or discounted much of the new cooking
equipment for the culinary center. ECC has counted on a number of community partners
to make the project happen and stay within budget.
"The culinary program
can be an expensive program to operate," said Zema. "If we do a visiting chef
dinner the funds are used to support scholarships and competition teams. What's
also unique is we have a retail store. Customers or faculty can stop by and get
something to take home for dinner." The packaging, pricing and selling of the
products they cook is all part of the learning process. Culinary Arts classes
teach everything from food buying and preservation, sanitation, and restaurant
management to preparation and presentation. 350 students will be entering culinary
classes this fall and Zema says 35% of them are career changers. It's a good mix.
"Some have the passion, but not the knowledge," said Zema. "You get a kid who
loves to cook and loves people and the flame gets lit and then gets brighter.
I see a lot of "me's" out there.
I never thought a kid from the south side of Chicago would be doing this." Zema
expects the interest in culinary arts to continue growing as the population gets
older and lives longer. After all, everybody eats.
| A series of equipment racks keep AV components
away from grease and dust and protect them from adjustments made by unauthorized
for more photos. |
"What's amazing to
me is the number of people going to proprietary schools and plunking down twenty
or thirty thousand dollars when there are just as many community colleges offering
culinary arts," said Zema, who is both professor and coordinator of the Culinary
Arts Management program. "I don't mean to knock proprietary schools, but we're
all doing the same stuff. We're all using the same materials. Nobody is sautéing
any different." For prospective students unsure where to go his advice is, sample
the wares. "Just ask, can I come in and spend the day with your students in the
program? You know who's really going to tell you what it's like? The student standing
next to you. I don't just let visitors stand around. I put them to work."
The ECC Culinary Arts Program has won more than its share of awards over the years,
including last year's Junior Culinarean of the year at the American Culinary Federation
Conference. Former student Laura Bellus-Kaltenecker defeated other young chefs
from both private and public culinary schools for the honor. ECC's Culinary Arts
and Hospitality Institute, however, is not about to rest on its laurels. With
a new home, new equipment and technology that brings it to the next level, the
Culinary Arts curriculum at ECC is ready to take off. Zema is proud to say "Our
school is as good as any school out there. Everybody's cookin'!"
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