Chefs in a kitchen

Cooking Up Talent

Can a new nonprofit culinary school help boost Idaho’s restaurant industry?

Lex Nelson 

David Knickrehm, chairman of the board of Idaho Chefs de Cuisine, sees one big problem threatening Boise’s restaurant industry: alack of talented cooks. He lays the blame partly on the graves of the Treasure Valley’s two defunct culinary programs—one attached to Boise State University and another to College of Western Idaho—and partly on a new cultural mindset.

“It’s because generationally people are thinking differently and entering into kitchen work isn’t as glamorous maybe as it once was,” he said.

Still, he’s cautiously optimistic that the new nonprofit culinary school set to open next spring in Sun Valley, the Sun Valley Culinary Institute, will provide fresh opportunities to aspiring Boise chefs,and maybe even give the industry an injection of new blood.

While Boise’s food industry labor shortage may be bigger than SVCI’s 15-strong annual graduating class will be able to combat, in Sun Valley itself that output will be a larger drop in a smaller bucket. Harry Griffith, the executive director of Sun Valley Economic Development and one of the key figures behind the institute, has high hopes for its economic impact there.

Close-up of chef putting onion in the pan on the stove

“The main concept behind going forward with [SVCI] was… to find a way to bring talent here, to get talent to work locally, to stay if they can and to improve the overall vibrancy of the hospitality economy,” he said.

SVCI will be largely dependent on community and corporate donors, whose gifts will help fund scholarships for students who would otherwise have to pay $15,000 in annual tuition. Hospitality veteran Paul Hineman and TV personality Chef Chris Koetke, new members of the SVCI team,have helped design a one-year degree program composed of one-part classroom training and two parts paid practical experience at a local restaurant. Nearly all of the jobs will include some form of subsidized housing, and a job fair will finish off the year. Griffith plans for the bulk of the talent to stay in the Sun Valley area, at least initially, but culinary heavyweights from Boise will be invited too.

Back in Boise, Knickrehm called Griffith’s concept “a great business plan,” but said a larger-scale, public culinary school based in Boise would be much more beneficial for the local industry, which needs a bigger influx of talent.

There is a sliver of hope on that front. In an email, CWI Communications Representative Ashley Smith wrote that the college is looking to reopen its culinary program but is lacking the resources to do so. In the meantime, those interested in attending SVCI can pre-register for the school’s certificate program on its website, sunvalleyculinary.org.

Excerpt reprinted with permission from the Boise Weekly.

photo credit: 123RF