A culinary science center unlike any other is coming to Auburn University in 2021.
The university’s Board of Trustees took the final steps Feb. 15 to create the Tony and Libba Rane Culinary Science Center, a transformative complex blending a learning environment with a luxury boutique hotel and restaurant.
“The Tony and Libba Rane Culinary Science Center will be an academic learning environment equipped to launch our students into leadership roles in the culinary and hospitality industries,” said Auburn University President Steven Leath. “The campus and community will also reap the benefits of having such a dynamic destination for food, hospitality and instruction so close to home.”
The 142,000-square-foot facility will provide students interested in hospitality and culinary sciences with hands-on learning experiences in a teaching hotel and a teaching restaurant, as well as a range of classrooms and demonstration and food production laboratories.
“Our students will have unparalleled opportunities to learn best practices in the hospitality and culinary sciences within a luxury setting from the best in the industry,” said June Henton, dean of the College of Human Sciences. “The entire complex will provide guests with an immersion in hospitality that is second to none.”
Auburn University is home to Alabama’s only professionally accredited hospitality program. The new center will be a draw for students currently in top culinary programs in high schools in Alabama and across the nation.
The facility will also become a destination for alumni and new guests alike who enjoy food and beverage tourism.
“The potential impact is enormous. The Tony and Libba Rane Culinary Science Center is going to be one of the most interesting and exciting culinary education centers in America, if not the world,” said Frank Stitt, owner and executive chef of Highlands Bar and Grill in Birmingham and 2018 James Beard Award winner for Outstanding Restaurant.
The Alabama Tourism Department reported an estimated 26.6 million people visited the state in 2017, generating more than $14.3 billion in revenue. One of the primary motivations of tourists in visiting Alabama is the state’s prominent and growing food legacy.
The challenge for Alabama is to maintain the tourism growth while facing a shortage of appropriately qualified employees in culinary and hospitality trades.
“There is an urgent need to rethink Alabama’s current workforce development strategy,” said Martin O’Neill, head of the Department of Nutrition, Dietetics and Hospitality Management in Auburn’s College of Human Sciences. “Auburn University is responding to this challenge with new and revitalized hospitality and culinary sciences curricula and development of the Tony and Libba Rane Culinary Science Center.”
The plans for such a facility at Auburn started more than a decade ago, when Henton tasked O’Neill and Hans van der Reijden, managing director of The Hotel at Auburn University and Dixon Conference Center, to visit globally recognized programs and facilities to benchmark the center’s development.
O’Neill and Van der Reijden visited the best of the best from Singapore to Switzerland and all of Europe, and developed a plan to create an academic resource for Auburn students interested in culinary-focused careers.
Plans received strong support in 2017 when James W. “Jimmy” Rane and the Rane family made a $12 million commitment to the building’s construction. Rane is a 1968 Auburn alumnus, longtime member of the Board of Trustees and chairman, president and chief executive officer of Great Southern Wood Preserving. The board later approved naming the facility in honor of his parents, Tony and Libba Rane.
Gifts to the College of Human Sciences, university general funds and revenue from the hotel, restaurant, a food hall and leased living units will cover the estimated project cost of $95.4 million. The Rane Culinary Science Center will be the first revenue-generating academic building at Auburn. The university seeks to raise an additional $13 million in philanthropic support through various naming opportunities within the building.
Construction at the corner of East Thach Avenue and South College Street will begin after an April groundbreaking ceremony.
The innovative teaching environment of the center will provide an inspiring learning platform for students to plan, market, manage and evaluate a commercial hospitality operation, while at the same time providing them with cutting-edge opportunities to develop technical and leadership skills.
Standing at the intersection of campus and community, the Rane Culinary Science Center will be a gathering place for all to use and enjoy.
Teaching areas of the center include:
The Laurel is the luxury boutique teaching hotel, where hospitality management students will gain hands-on practical experience working in all areas of hotel operations in a luxury 32-room facility. The spa on the sixth floor and the rooftop garden are parts of the Laurel. The garden will provide vegetables and herbs for food production throughout the center. The rooftop space can house small events. The Laurel is one of the center’s many features that can be enjoyed by the Auburn community and visiting guests.
A 40-seat teaching restaurant, 1856 will feature a “Chef in Residence” program, where different nationally acclaimed chefs will provide a chef de cuisine to work hand-in-hand with culinary science instructors and students to create a restaurant of his or her own vision. The practical educational experience for junior-level students will take place during lunch service, while senior-level students will execute dinner service with instructors at their side. The restaurant will be open to the public.
The 9,000-square-foot food hall will provide a number of food vendors for all to enjoy. A coffee bar will be inside the center with a small operational coffee roastery. Two vendor spaces will be food incubators, providing hospitality management and culinary science graduates the space at a minimal cost to begin and grow their own restaurants before venturing out on their own.
Wine Appreciation Center
On the second floor above 1856, the center will feature a tasting room for 50 students. The instructor will be a Master Sommelier or a Certified Wine Educator who will not only be teaching wine appreciation classes for students in the program and the campus at large, but also allow the community and hotel guests to experience such classes and tastings in the evening.
Distilled Spirits Center
Adjacent to the Wine Appreciation Center on the second floor, the Distilled Spirits Center will feature a micro distillery for the purpose of research as well as showing students the distillation process in an experiential sense. Classes will be open campus-wide and will allow an opportunity for the Auburn community and hotel guests to experience distilled spirit tasting before dinner in the Laurel.
Brewing Science Laboratory
This facility will feature a state-of-the-art, open concept, micro-teaching brewery, tasting room and microbiology laboratory to provide brewing science and hospitality management students with the hands-on education and training necessary for employment in the ever-expanding craft brewing industry. The facility will expose students to all aspects of commercial beer production, such as scientific principles and facility operation, as well as technological innovation and its influence upon production methods, quality control and the sensory profile of all beer produced.
Culinary Exhibition Lab
Up to 80 students can observe demonstrations in the lab from atrium-style seating on the second floor. The design of the lab on the lower level will include non-conventional cooking stations to expose students to various cooking techniques and innovative methods. The space lends itself to commercial cooking demonstrations, not only for Saturday culinary workshops, which are open to the public, but any night of the week for the community and hotel guests.
Food and Beverage Media Studio
Near the line in the exhibition lab, the studio will teach food and beverage photography and videography, helping to prepare future chefs, bar operators and restaurateurs to be media savvy. This media studio will be a unique resource for a hospitality management program in the United States.
Additional features of the center:
A rotating roster of celebrity chefs will create weekend workshops using every aspect of the center, with guests staying at the Laurel, enjoying the rooftop gardens, eating in the Heyday Market and 1856, experiencing a cooking demonstration and taking a class in the exhibition kitchen and wine tasting in the wine appreciation center.
The Residences at the Laurel
Only six upper-level residences will be available for long-term leasing. Each 1,650-square-foot unit will have two bedrooms, three bathrooms, a full kitchen and space for entertaining. Residents will enjoy the rooftop swimming pool and bar, full-service spa and other amenities, as well as concierge services and valet parking from the hotel.
This story originally appeared on Auburn University’s website.