By Ryan Johnson
A new culinary institute could open here within five years, potentially connecting the next group of chefs, managers and workers with the thriving local restaurant scene.
But some new programs and opportunities for local culinary arts students might begin even sooner.
Margie Bailly, the former Fargo Theatre executive director spearheading discussions to try to establish a local culinary center, said the concept is 50 percent there as more partners have joined the effort.
A committee with about a dozen stakeholders, including academics, local chefs, community leaders and economic development officials, is now meeting on a regular basis to follow up on next steps and get the project off the ground.
While the concept, which has been discussed for more than five years, is still fluid and nothing is finalized, Bailly said there are signs of progress already.
"It is definitely moving forward and we're continuing to connect the dots," she said.
Bailly said the new culinary center would primarily fall under the auspices North Dakota State College of Science, which is based in Wahpeton but has a presence in Fargo.
The school offers a two-year associate degree in culinary arts on its Wahpeton campus — the only post-secondary culinary arts program in the state — and President John Richman said this new Fargo venture could capitalize on that programming.
"What we see is there's a different demographic, a different type of student, taking our programming in Fargo than the students that are taking the same program in Wahpeton," he said. "That may play out here in culinary arts."
While NDSCS now has a large site in north Fargo, Richman said a new culinary center wouldn't be located in the existing building.
Instead, Richman and Bailly said it would make sense to locate it in downtown Fargo, a hotbed of culinary growth in recent years with new restaurants opening and flourishing.
Bailly said it remains to be seen if the center will open as an institute and full restaurant. There's still some discussion about trying to open a boutique hotel and restaurant to give even more students hands-on experience in the hospitality industry, she said.
But no specific site has been picked. Bailly continues to look into the possibilities with several potential partners, including Kilbourne Group, which has made significant investments throughout downtown.
Holly Hassler, Kilbourne Group's business manager, said a new center could add to the city's already thriving food and beverage scene. While Kilbourne Group is a "big advocate" of the idea, she said it's too early to know if it will be a part of establishing this culinary center.
"We're super supportive of Margie and her idea and definitely helping out in any way we can," she said. "We do see this as a benefit for downtown."
An advisory group with Founding Farmers, which operates three restaurants in the Washington, D.C., area owned by the North Dakota Farmers Union, could visit Fargo by the end of the year to help with long-term planning, Bailly said.
Founding Farmers also has expressed interest in a possible internship program that could start as early as next year, giving NDSCS students in Wahpeton a chance to intern at the group's restaurants in Washington.
A culinary center would open the door for new kinds of partnerships between NDSCS and North Dakota State University, Richman said. A culinary arts student could study the management side of the industry at NDSU, for example, while management students might want to gain a better understanding of the culinary arts as offered by NDSCS.
Faculty members in both programs have met several times to discuss this potential, Richman said, and an articulation agreement could create new opportunities for this kind of transfer student.
Still, he said, any new NDSCS venture would be launched to address the future workforce needs for North Dakota, not the future of the college.
"This isn't something that we came up with ourselves; this is something that will be led and championed by business and industry, as all of our other programming is," Richman said.
Eric Watson, a chef who operates restaurants in Moorhead and Fargo and also serves as an adjunct instructor at NDSCS in Wahpeton, said Fargo is "long overdue" for a culinary school, especially as it becomes harder to fill the demand for workers here.
"With all the restaurants that have opened just in the last three, four years, there's all these restaurants that perfectly complement a school and a school can complement the culinary community," he said. "It just makes sense."
Department: Culinary Arts
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