Tuesday, July 7, 2020
Sun Valley Culinary Institute Pioneers a New Educational Model
Chris Koetke said the new Sun Valley Culinary Institute is close to its final inspection.
Thursday, February 13, 2020


Obviously, Valentine’s Day must come first. But Feb. 15 marks an important day in the life of the new Sun Valley Culinary Institute—it’s the day the school begins accepting applications for its groundbreaking professional program.

And Chef Chris Koetke, who has opened more than 40 culinary schools around the world, says those who are interested had better act fast. Already a dozen Wood River High School students have indicated interest, added Karl Johan Uri, the institute’s development and marketing director.

“My advice is apply quickly,” said Koetke. “Ten to 12 people and that’s it. So, if we get the applicants that are a fit for us in two months, we’re done. Right now, we’re giving people in Sun Valley, in Idaho, a chance to apply first.”

The new kitchen boasts state-of-the-art equipment and shiny subway tile.

The educational model for institute’s professional training is very different from other culinary school models, said Koetke.

Students will spend five days a week seven hours a day in the kitchen learning and practicing cooking skills for two months, rather than sit in math or science classes as they would in so many programs.

Saturdays will be devoted to field trips to places like the Hillside Grain mill and farm south of Bellevue or the Flat Top Sheep Ranch to learn where the food comes from, said Koetke.

On Dec. 15, at the end of two months, students will take a comprehensive written and practical exam and head out to restaurants at Sun Valley Resort and in Ketchum for a four-month internship during high season when local restaurants are busy.

Karl Johan Uri told those at the Wood River Jewish Community’s Ladies Luncheon that food enthusiast classes will be a big draw for Sun Valley visitors.

They will then return to the Culinary Institute for two months during spring slack to learn baking and other skills. Then they’ll head back out for another four-month internship during which they will be mentored by local chefs like Scott Mason during the busy summer season.

They will receive a one-year technical certificate at the completion of the course.

“We’re trying to create well-trained cook who can go right into the industry,” said Uri. “It’s an opportunity for someone to spend a year to see if it’s a career for them. If it’s not, they will still have a lot of valuable skills they can use the rest of their lives.”

“Over the course of one year we will give them the basic skills they need to be successful. At that point they can go out and work or go on to another course of study. It’s a culinary resource for everyone—for restaurants in Sun Valley and for students,” said Koetke.

Members of the Wood River Jewish Community talk about how the culinary industry offers positions beyond the kitchen.

And, along the way, they will share their lunches with locals, including groups from the Senior Connection and The Hunger Coalition, to get feedback and ensure no food goes to waste.

The 501©3 Culinary Institute, based in what used to be the Cornerstone Bar and Grill on Main Street Ketchum, has turned heads.

The Revelry Group, which brings leaders in the food and beverage industry to Sun Valley Resort every year for networking, has given the institute a big donation to ensure it’s established. The Revelry Group also offers access to state-of-the-art equipment at inexpensive prices and things like in-kind cleaning supplies.

The bar and grill’s old stoves went to The Hunger Coalition for the cooking classes it plans to offer after it moves into its new space this summer.

The divider that used to separate the event center has been removed.

The new kitchen has subway tile and four shiny new ovens and other commercial equipment. The divider between the dining room and the kitchen has been removed, new floors have been installed and the event center has a new bar top where food enthusiasts can take classes from guest chefs. The ceiling has been painted and adorned with new light fixtures. And the electrical system has been upgraded.

The bakery will be in the upstairs mezzanine.

The Wood River Jewish Community recently invited Uri to present an overview of the restaurant at its Winter Ladies Lunch at Knob Hill Inn.

Uri noted how his parents brought a condo in Sun Valley in 1974 when his mother was pregnant with him.

“So,” he said, “I’ve literally been coming all my life.”

But, he added, things are changing in the valley.

“It’s not just all about the skiing, anymore. It’s not just all about the golf anymore. People are looking for other experiences while here and the Culinary institute will offer that with its enthusiast cooking classes.

“The culinary institute is about transforming not just the lives of Wood River Valley students but your lives, as well,” added Uri, who used to head up Washington’s seafood commission, which is similar to the Idaho Potato Commission. “Food is what brings people together. We want people to have a culinary experience with world-class culinary educators. And we will also offer the place for events—perhaps, you might have your ladies’ luncheon there next year.”

Koetke said it thrills him to see the building he envisioned materialize in an 1884 building that used to serve as a grocery and general merchandise store and is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

“And what I’m really happy about tis that you can still feel the history of that building. We haven’t gutted it.”

Koetke said the course will be offered at a “very reasonable” price point of $12,500. The cost is mitigated by the fact that students will be paid during internships. Financial assistance will be available, as well.

Sun Valley Resort will provide low-cost housing for those who work in its restaurants, Uri.

The training will increase Idaho’s culinary training output by 30 percent, said Uri. It is not designed to compete with local restaurants but it will help some by providing extra hands during the busy season.

And the Revelry Group will only help the institute’s profile, he said.

“It brings food and beverage leaders here for a few days of networking. They come here, take a hike, go skiing and they end up buying homes. So, quietly, Sun Valley is becoming an insider community for food and industry.”

Koetke invites anyone with questions to reach out: “This is a small personal program, not like a school with 10,000 students. So, we’re happy to entertain all questions personally.”


The Sun Valley Culinary Institute offers free tours at 3 p.m. Mondays. Visit www.sunvalleyculinary.org for more information. Or email SunValleyCulinary@gmail.com.


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