New FVCC Program Pushes Student Chefs to the Limit

Culinary Institute of Montana students will open two new restaurants this fall

By Justin Franz

The grills and stoves inside Flathead Valley Community College’s kitchen have cooled a bit the last few weeks.

A group of 10 second-year students at the college’s Culinary Institute of Montana have taken a break from the line and spent the last month inside a classroom learning about business plans, bank loans and just about everything else it takes to open a restaurant. The lessons are part of the culinary program’s new capstone class, which takes two teams of student chefs and has them open up their own restaurants on campus. The first one will open on Oct. 7 and serve lunch three days a week for three weeks.

“Now we get to the fun part,” said Howard Karp, executive chef and director of the culinary program. “We’re going to take everything they have learned in the classroom about entrepreneurship and have the students actually open their own restaurants.”

The 12-credit course is being run in coordination with the school’s Entrepreneurship Center and its coordinator, Jill Seigmund. It is one of the final courses in the culinary program and Karp said it is also one of the only programs in the country to have a class like this. He said the capstone will “push the program over the top.”

Seigmund has helped organize the first four weeks of the program, where students learned the business side of the food industry. She said that most culinary schools focus on the science of cooking and rarely talk about business, which might explain why most restaurants fail in the first year.

“You can be a great cook, but if you don’t have the business skills, you won’t succeed as a restaurateur,” she said.

Among the class’ instructors was Katie White, the school’s associate marketing director, who talked to students about how to market and promote a business, much like she does for the school. White said it was amazing to see how much the students had absorbed in the last few weeks.

Besides hitting the books, students have been planning their menus. The first restaurant is called The Experience and plays off the fact that it will be set up right inside the kitchen, much like the school’s Chef’s Table events. One group of students will run the restaurant and work the line and another group will serve as the employees. Then, in early November, the two groups will switch.

The Experience will focus on what student Taylor Baer called “elevated comfort food,” with everything from burgers to ice cream sandwiches to fish tacos.

“Our focus for the last year or so has been food, but this capstone class has brought us a new perspective and will help us become managers, not just chefs,” she said.

The second restaurant, called Ambrosia (which means “food of the Gods”), will open on Nov. 4 with a focus on Greek cuisine. Jonathon Hartig, one of the students heading up the restaurant, said the group chose Greek food because it believes it is something the Flathead Valley lacks.

Hartig said the skills they have learned in the classroom are invaluable, but he’s excited to ditch the books and don an apron again.

“This is the longest we’ve been out of the kitchen since the program started, so we’re excited to get back in there and cook,” he said.

The Experience will be open from Oct. 7 to Oct. 23, Tuesday through Thursday, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Ambrosia will be open with the same schedule from Nov. 4 to Nov. 20. Both will be open to the public inside the school’s kitchen in the Arts and Technology Building.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.