Opportunity grows with new GRCC Culinary Amphitheater


Dan Gendler, program director for the Secchia Institute for Culinary Education, in GRCC's Pietro and Regina Culinary Amphitheater. Photo by Johnny Quirin

The Grand Rapids community just gained a promising opportunity in the form of the newly opened Pietro and Regina Culinary Amphitheater on the Grand Rapids Community College campus.

The $765,000, state-of-the-art amphitheater was made possible through private donations, including funding from Peter Secchia: The amphitheater is named after his grandparents. It includes a plethora of features that will enhance learning for GRCC students and provide opportunities for the community to have intimate exposure to chefs, both local and visiting.

“We’re definitely going to be able to do some fundraising situations there,” said Dan Gendler, program director for the Secchia Institute for Culinary Education.

Gendler noted that the new countertop allows for seating of up to 12 people, which is perfect for intimate fundraising dinners, special events and guest chefs. The close proximity means that guests will be five feet from the chef who is preparing food before their eyes, offering a setting that was not previously possible.

For larger groups, the new space offers five up-close viewing options for those seated in the 54-seat amphitheater, including three television screens mounted above the counter and robotic cameras that allow for zoomed-in views and different angles on each screen. The room also has a drop-down projector and a screen on the side of the counter.

In addition, the equipment includes high-end Wolf ranges and ovens, Sub-Zero coolers, a full granite countertop and a touch-screen panel that allows for presetting of the lights and sound system.

“You push one button and it adjust lights, it drops the projection, turns the camera on, turns the projector on, fires up the controls,” Gendler said. “Things are interlaced and interfaced with each other, which makes it really convenient for the instructor.”

Besides hosting culinary classes and fundraisers, the amphitheater will be used for GRCC Cooks programs, which are non-credit classes taken by nearly 600 community members per year. The American Culinary Federation will host monthly meetings and chef demonstrations there, as will the local Tasters Guild chapter.

GRCC Chef Angus Campbell is excited by the prospects the room has to offer. He said the primary reason for the amphitheater is as a teaching tool, but everything else is a wonderful bonus.

“I already have three television shows booked for taping and we are selling the tickets for an audience,” Campbell said. “So this is going to be the first TV shows that I’ve ever done that I’m going to have a live audience, and then whatever food I produce there is going to be a buffet for them to eat at the end of the taping.”

Campbell said he has taped more than 100 television shows during his time in Grand Rapids, but this will be the first time that he will have a live audience for his “Cooking with Angus” show.

The room has the potential to be used for cooking competitions, guest chef demonstrations and for weaving GRCC into larger community events such as LaughFest.

“The next time LaughFest rolls around, I would love to do a dinner comedy theater in there, and somehow take advantage of not only the room, but of the great theater-type venue that it is. I think it would be absolutely fantastic,” said Gendler.

Prior to the amphitheater, GRCC had two options for hosting classroom laboratories and bringing the community in, either a flat kitchen setting where viewing was difficult, or the school’s auditorium, which lacked cooking demonstration functionality. Now the possibilities seem endless.

“It’s like completion,” said Campbell. “It’s unbelievable how we’ve arrived now at the situation where we have. Literally, every form of teaching space available, we have it right here. We’ve got some of the best kitchens in the world, some of the best bake shops, chocolate rooms, pastry shops, etc., and now we have what we’ve always needed to allow us to do these community events, fundraisers, TV shows, private events and most importantly, classrooms.”

The amphitheater hosted its first event the night of its ribbon-cutting ceremony and is already being booked for future events. This fall, Gendler said, four visiting chefs are scheduled to visit and provide presentations and cooking demonstrations to students.

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