Tuesday, July 16, 2019
Sun Valley Culinary Institute Could Diversify Economy
Harry Griffith and Chef Chris Koetke are asking for community support for the Sun Valley Culinary Institute.
Tuesday, October 23, 2018


Harry Griffith watched as the chef in front of him whipped up a little magic, whisking ingredients in three different pans on the stove in rapid fire succession for a couple minutes.

Chef Chris Koetke slid the orange-pink salmon onto a plate, fashioned a little bok choy on one side and ladled pureed sweet potato that he had molded with spoons on the other side. He then drizzled a little sauce infused with ginger, Kimchi and other Asian flavors over the salmon, creating a plate that as flavorful as it was attractive.

Chef Chris, as he’s known on the Living Well TV program “Let’s Dish,” had just created his first dish on behalf of the Sun Valley Culinary Institute.

Paul Hineman, CFO of First Watch Restaurants, has agreed to be the interim executive director of the Sun Valley Culinary Institute.

If all goes according to plan, he will be showing students how to craft such dishes next spring in a culinary school set up in the recently vacated Globus Restaurant in Ketchum. And he and other celebrity chefs will be conducting classes for food enthusiasts from throughout the United States.

“We’ve been saying it’s a great idea. The community kept saying it’s a great idea. But we could never align all the pieces,” said Harry Griffith, executive director of Sun Valley Economic Development. “Finally, the stars have aligned for making Sun Valley a world-class food hub. This program will benefit the entire community as it improves our economy and tourism.”

The not-for-profit institute will serve two populations--the professional and non-professional. The professional track will enroll up to 15 students in an intensive year-long program that will have students in the classroom and behind the stove where they will get real-life experiences. Graduates will be capable of assuming any role in the kitchen upon graduation.

 “We’re not just talking about calories that taste good but how it looks, how it’s plated.” Griffith said.

Kevin Hall, who just opened Ripfire Pizza and BBQ in Sarasota, Fla., is helping get the Sun Valley Culinary Institute off the ground.

As envisioned, the institute will provide well-trained employees for Sun Valley Resort and local restaurants. And it will provide additional training for those already working behind the stove. It could even create restaurants.

“Right now we don’t have enough people to work in hospitality,” Griffith said. “We’ve had three restaurants close in the last few years. Hopefully, this could help remedy that situation.”

Griffith also envisions the institute will attract some of the 24 million food enthusiasts in the United States who travel 50-plus miles from home to take part in food activities. And that it will entice visitors and second homeowners to spend a few days longer while here.

“Food is a weather-neutral business—something you can do in the spring or fall. It gives vacationers something to do if it’s smoky outside in summer. And it gives them something to do if it’s a low snow year,” he said.

To get it off the ground, SVED has launched a fundraising campaign asking individuals, restaurateurs, the City of Ketchum and others to help make improvements to the restaurant and hire key staff. Griffith thinks it can break even by the fourth year and he says contributors will receive perks.

“It’s a modest community contribution we’re asking for—three-quarters of a million dollars to get it started,” he said. “But we need a certain level of commitment by December to proceed.”

The culinary institute started with a 2008-09 consultant study looking at ways to establish an educational presence in the community. The SVED evaluated several options, including nursing, and  determined that the culinary track had the most potential.

“It fit with the area, the bones of who we are as a community,” said Griffith.

SVED had conversations with the College of Southern Idaho about expanding their culinary classes into Ketchum and Sun Valley. And it came very close to buying the Elkhorn Market, which was available at that time. But when the economy improved in 2011, funding designed to keep CSI going during the recession was cut so college representatives pulled back to focus on what the college was already doing.

SVED made a couple other attempts to bring entrepreneurs and investors together but could never get the perfect combination, Griffith said. That changed this past year when Griffith met Paul Hineman at one of Revelry Exchanges’ invitation-only Food and Beverage Leadership Exchange and FoodOvation conferences that Sun Valley Resort has hosted for 25 years.

Hineman, a mainstay in the conferences designed to forge partnerships and drive industry innovation,  was intrigued when Griffith showed him SVED’s detailed plans. And three months later, Hineman returned with a proposal to put a team together.

Griffith and Hineman have spent the past four months modifying the plans to include more focus on food enthusiasts. And they’ve nailed down a location for the institute at the site of the former Globus Restaurant,

“We considered Elkhorn Springs Restaurant, but it’s a little out of town and the kitchen’s a little small. We wanted to do something more spectacular and contemporary, world-class, state-of-the-art, and we found that in Globus,” Griffith said.

The program has a full liquor license and may open as a bar at night. It will also lend itself to special events. But it will not compete with existing restaurants, Griffith said.

SVED has already reached out to some potential donors. It’s also applying for grants and in-kind material donation,s such as equipment from the restaurant and hospitality industry.

It is partnering with the Blaine County School District, College of Southern Idaho, University of Idaho, Sun Valley Institute for Resilience and Local Food Alliance.

“It’s an opportunity for the community help itself grow and diversify and get behind our tradition of food, hospitality and resort activity,” Griffith said.

One of the attractions for Kevin Hall, who spent 25 years with First Watch, the nation’s leading breakfast, brunch and lunch concept, is the apprenticeship approach the institute plans to take.

“That brings culinary training full circle,” he said. “Before culinary schools, that’s how aspiring chefs learned. They learned at the school of hard knocks.”


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