Mammoth as a culinary center? Why not?

A new and ambitious culinary program for the Mammoth Lakes Foundation made its first, tentative start last week.

The idea is to establish a top-drawer culinary program that eventually would mesh with Cerro Coso Community College, alongside other cultural entities.

It would serve as a training incubator that could feed, so to speak, the 150 restaurants and eateries in a corridor stretching down the Eastside.

Foundation CEO Evan Russell and consultant Bill Taylor unveiled the plans last week at the Mammoth Lakes Planning Commission meeting.

The plan included a proposal to infuse the foundation and college with a variety of cultural pieces, including a theater that would seat 220 to 300 people, a rehearsal space for a theater, a gift shop, and a café.

“The purpose of this report is to determine if sufficient community support and resources exist to successfully operate an arts facility on the Mammoth Lakes campus of the college,” Taylor wrote in an introduction to the project.

But, Russell said, planners have to establish a need for the construction of such a new facility.
“It’s that chicken and egg thing,” Russell said after the meeting. “If you build it, there’s no guarantee anybody’s going come, and the other side says that if you don’t have a really good program, there will be nobody to step in.

“We’re trying to bridge that gap and get started.”

Already the foundation has remodeled its current Edison Hall. To add a culinary program would involve a further remodel, with the new building as the eventual goal.

“If we can find a way to raise the money to get a culinary program and get more of the community to use it, then that sets the stage for a real facility,” Russell said.

If a new facility were built, it would be funded by Measure C bond money approved by the voters of Mammoth Lakes back in 2000.

The foundation also would ask for Measure U funding, along with donations.

“Edison Hall will serve as a test program and an incubator for a bigger program,” Russell said.

In all, the new facility would serve as a centerpiece for the Mammoth Arts and Cultural Center.
“The MACC will provide a resource for meeting educational needs of the community and can be built and operated with existing bond funds and reasonably anticipated additional resources,” said Taylor in his report.

In February 2010, the foundation convened a cultural steering committee to develop the feasibility report that was delivered to the Planning Commission last week. It met seven times over the course of four months.

As for the culinary piece, the center envisions a two-year program that would offer classes in:
• Nutrition
• Basic (culinary) skills
• Sanitation and safety
• Introduction to the hospitality industry
• Food production and presentation
• Specialty classes in baking, grilling, etc.
• Menu planning
• Dining room (presentation, service and management)
• Food purchasing
• Cost control and record keeping
• Restaurant operations
• Internships
• Restaurant administration

“We assume class offerings would be staggered over a two-year program with some classes offered each semester or as needed by the community,” the report to the commission stated.

“We live in a resort corridor (Bishop to Bridgeport) with over 100 eating establishments,” the report continued.

“Local restaurants will have the ability to hire trained staff and skilled culinary workers who are currently not available. They will also have the ability to send staff for skills training and food safety, which is not always offered in our area.”

Meanwhile, according to the plans, the cultural center as a whole “will support approximately 250 persons for theater and/or multi-use activities.

“The teaching kitchen and training facility would be able to support functions that can accommodate 250 persons at one time.”