A Matter of Taste
Aric Chen -- Interior Design, 3/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
When Robert Morris College launched its Institute of Culinary Arts in Aurora, Illinois, administrators knew that mixers, food processors, and convection ovens wouldn't be enough. Attracting the best aspiring chefs would require a certain hipness quotient. That's a tall order for a college in a suburban office park 40 minutes from Chicago—but it's the spécialité de la maison for Slick Design and Manufacturing, the firm responsible for such Windy City hot spots as Sound-Bar and Y as well as a cooking school for Calphalon. As identified by principal Rocco Laudizio, the school needed "something young and energetic, like a hotel lobby or a nightclub."
First, Laudizio had to grapple with a corridor that bisected the school's 9,000-square-foot street-level space. Fire codes dictated that this passageway stay, so Laudizio enclosed its 10-yard length in clear tempered glass to maintain a sense of openness.
Since humor is the spice of life, there's a bowl of artificial red apples permanently fixed to the white Corian top of the reception desk—a cheeky nod to teachers' pets. The waiting area's streamlined modular seating is upholstered in durable forest-green vinyl, the same color as the paint on the window trim. A plasma screen is tuned to the Food Network, and prospective students can also flip through cookbooks displayed in wall-mounted units. Constructed of white Corian-laminated MDF, these cubes have acrylic back panels lit by changing LED colors to enhance the lounge-y feel.
Even a room for dry goods got the disco treatment. The pantry's enclosure, a box that juts into a waiting area off the main corridor, is clad in glass illuminated by LEDs synchronized with those in the waiting area. Wrapping the enclosure, at eye level, a band of backlit photographs flaunts kiwis, watermelons, and other edible treats.
Tiny chunks of stainless steel and glass are embedded in the white terrazzo flooring installed everywhere but one of the two amphitheater-style classrooms. Here, terra-cotta tile makes for a standard commercial-kitchen look, as do simple workstations curving around a cooking island where demonstrations take place. The other classroom has "more of a slick European style," Laudizio explains. Each student station in stainless steel and Corian laminate is outfitted with appliances as well as an LCD screen in a special glass-fronted case that keeps out the grease.
Students practice their table presentations and cater the occasional dinner in the executive dining room—which definitely lives up to its name. Paneled inchocolate-stained ash, the room is anchored by a matching table for 20. The chair upholstery is marinara red, while the rippling blown-glass pendant fixtures, Laudizio says, "look like they're wrapped in spaghetti.
"Students might feel like they're learning in a nightclub," he adds. "But there's also a taste of the real world."
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