When UCF and Valencia opened their joint campus in the Creative Village, downtown Orlando got a culinary arts school. That’s because Valencia moved its existing culinary arts and hospitality program from its West Campus.
And thanks to a donation of $1.5 million dollars from Walt Disney World Resort, the facilities, including high-tech classrooms, specialized kitchens with overhead cameras, and even a mixology lab, are all state of the art.
The facilities occupy three levels of the 15-story UnionWest tower constructed by Ustler Development that also has student services offices and dormitory housing on the upper floors.
I was given a tour of the facilities recently by Alex Erdmann, dean of the School of Culinary Arts and Hospitality at Valencia College; Jim Inglis, Hotel/Restaurant Management director; and Ken Bourgoin, chef and instructor.
The floors are designed so that as students progress in the program they move upstairs. The lower level kitchens have electric and induction cooktops. When they reach the top floor they’ll be cooking with gas.
One notable feature on all three levels is the openness of the kitchen classrooms. Each has a wall of windows that allow passersby to see in and observe from the hallway. And the hallways themselves have windows looking out to Orlando’s skyline. It may be one of the best views of a culinary school anywhere.
Among the equipment the students have to work with are:
- A micro-green growing cabinet
- An Italian ice cream machine
- Blast chillers to quickly cool food
- Artisanal bread-baking ovens
Moreover, students will be able to arrange internships to work in local kitchens, something that the folks at Walt Disney World no doubt had in mind when it made its donations.
The mixology lab has a 27-foot teaching bar that will allow students to learn bartending and earn beverage certificates. The space can also be hired out for events.
UCF, of course, is home to the Rosen College of Hospitality Management, whose campus is in the tourist corridor next to Rosen Shingle Creek. Although its campus does have a professional kitchen that could be used for teaching, Rosen College does not offer a degree in culinary arts.
UCF students, including those enrolled at Rosen College, can sign up for classes at the Walt Disney World Center for Culinary Arts and Hospitality, but they must enroll as a Valencia student.
Next spring, the college will open a 4,000-square-foot community event space on the first floor of UnionWest that will give students practical experience in banquets and food service. There are no plans for the school to open and operate a full service restaurant, as some culinary schools do.
There are currently 1,300 students enrolled in the culinary arts program. That number is expected to double with the opening of the new facilities.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the Marriott hotel would be purchasing breads from the school.