Western Culinary Institute gets ready to claim huge space in rejuvenated Galleria

Only the bare structural bones of what will be the Western Culinary Institute's new digs in the Galleria are visible, but they're enough to stir envy in a chef visiting from the Portland school's London affiliate.

'I wish we had this; this is marvelous,' said Neil Patton, an instructor at Le Cordon Bleu in London, standing in the sunny space that will be one of eight kitchen labs on the fifth floor of the Galleria on Southwest Morrison Street.

Patton, in Portland to co-teach two weeks of cuisine classes at Western Culinary, joined an advance media tour of the Galleria construction project with Chef Michael Palmer, a Le Cordon Bleu graduate who is chairman of Western Culinary's culinary department.

Western Culinary is leasing 85,000 square feet in the 200,000-square-foot Galleria. It will occupy the fourth and fifth floors, in addition to restaurant space on the ground floor. The institute was the catalyst for the Galleria's $7 million to $10 million renovation. The work includes removal of the central escalators and a new entrance and elevator on the Southwest Ninth Avenue side to accommodate Western Culinary students. Two new corner entrances will go in at Southwest 10th Avenue and Alder Street.

All of the fifth floor is being transformed into kitchen labs, three demonstration kitchens and storerooms.

The new classrooms will include the 'chocolate lab,' a climate-

controlled space where 'tours will linger,' kidded Eric Stromquist, Western Culinary's director of education. The fourth floor will include lecture rooms, a computer lab, a library and administrative offices.

The culinary school also will operate two restaurants on the Galleria's ground floor. Cafe Bleu, featuring espresso and goodies made in patisserie classes, will face Tenth Avenue; Restaurant Bleu, a fine-dining restaurant that will serve both lunch and dinner, will be on the Ninth Avenue side of the building, which occupies an entire block between Alder and Morrison streets.

Stromquist said Restaurant Bleu initially will be open Tuesday through Friday, eventually moving to a daily schedule.

In its 20-year existence, the school for chefs has expanded to occupy seven buildings and accommodate an enrollment of about 850 students ÑÊ100 in a hospitality and restaurant management program based in Goose Hollow, the rest in the culinary program. In 1996, it became a part of Career Education Corp. and three years ago partnered with Le Cordon Bleu.

Student chefs will move en masse to the new Galleria campus Oct. 1 ÑÊalso the start date for Western Culinary's new Le Cordon Bleu Patisserie and Baking program. When the school is operating at its new location, in double the space it now occupies, with all-new equipment and classrooms, school officials expect enrollment to climb accordingly.

'To have an educational institution come along and say, 'We would like to have a downtown location,' that's the best possible thing that could happen to this building,' said Verne Naito, vice president of Naito Corp., which has owned the Galleria since 1974.

'They're going to really revitalize the building,' he said.

The Galleria's remaining office tenants shifted to the 18second and third floors to accommodate Western Culinary's space demands.

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