HCC lands $147K grant to buy mobile culinary arts lab

  • HCC culinary arts alum Nicole Ortiz wrote a letter in support of HCC’s mobile food lab grant; she started her own culinary career with her Crave food truck. Ortiz now also runs Crave restaurant on High Street in Holyoke. Submitted photo

  • Chef Warren Leigh slices a pan-seared duck breast during a class at the HCC MGM Culinary Arts Institute. Submitted photo

Published: 3/15/2022 2:17:37 PM
Modified: 3/15/2022 2:16:56 PM

HOLYOKE — Holyoke Community College has been awarded a $147,000 Skills Capital Grant to purchase a truck for its culinary arts program that will be used as a mobile kitchen for community outreach and education.

“It’s not our intention to sell food out of the truck as a means to generate revenue,” said HCC professor Warren Leigh, co-chair of the culinary arts program. “We’re not going to set up on the corner and sell tacos and hot dogs. We are absolutely going to cook in it, but the main purpose is to engage the community. At the same time, our students will gain experience in food truck operations.”

The funds, from Gov. Baker’s Workforce Skills Cabinet, are part of a new $3.3 million package of grants to 20 educational organizations in Massachusetts for updating equipment and expanding student enrollment in career education programs.

The lab will support both credit and noncredit culinary arts programs and also incorporate other areas of study including nutrition, health, business and entrepreneurship.

“HCC will deploy the truck to bring food to neighborhoods of downtown Holyoke,” HCC wrote in its application. In addition, HCC plans to connect this project to its downtown Freight Farms initiative with a focus on basic nutrition, local produce and healthy eating.

Leigh envisions using the mobile food lab to engage community partners such as the Holyoke Boys & Girls Club and area food pantries. Students will meet with representatives from area organizations to create menus based on ingredients of their choice or what might be seasonally available.

Once the truck arrives — sometime later this year — food truck operations will be worked into the current culinary arts curriculum in both credit and non-credit courses such as event planning and line-cook training. Students will have to learn to cook in a much smaller space than they are used to in the kitchens at the HCC MGM Culinary Arts Institute; they’ll also have to learn food truck logistics, such as how to dispose of dirty “grey” water, replenish the kitchen with fresh water, and maintain a stable power source.

HCC culinary arts alum Nicole Ortiz, who wrote a letter in support of the grant and started her own culinary career with her Crave food truck business, now also runs Crave restaurant on High Street in Holyoke.

“Nicole started with that small trailer that she bought with a grant from EforAll (Holyoke SPARK’s Entrepreneurship for All initiative),” said Leigh. “She got going and now she’s in a brick-and-mortar site.”

Leigh said the HCC mobile food lab will have an awning like a food truck and a window pass for food and will also be equipped with cameras in the cooking area and a flat-screen TV on the outside so people can watch what’s going on inside.

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