Culinary arts kitchen under construction

Already considered a prime destination for creative and artistic endeavors, Art in the Loft expands its capabilities even further with installation of a new culinary arts kitchen. The Gallery 109 space located in the historic Center Building soon will be the site of a state-of-the-art kitchen facility outfitted for both cooking classes and catering events.

Construction on the kitchen currently is under way with a tentative April 1 completion date. The $109,000 project includes a prep area with plenty of cabinets and counter space, a cooking area with an eight-burner range and two convection ovens, a pantry area, and a separate dish washing area supplied with a commercial-grade dish washer. The kitchen’s centerpiece will be a two-section movable island perfectly suited for culinary arts instruction.

“We have a huge display mirror that might not go up right away, but will be suspended from the island so that culinary arts students can see whatever the chef is talking about,” said Gallery Coordinator Justin Christensen-Cooper. “That will increase the class size even further because it increases the display area.”

The mirror stands as one of numerous special features worked into the project designed by Tad Latuzek of Trinity Architecture in Gaylord. Another is a 2-foot by 5-foot glass transom window created by stained glass artist Peggy Matuzak. Artistically designed, it will reflect the natural lighting of the loft, while also listing the names of the project’s top donors.

“The piece ties in to what we do at Art in the Loft,” said Christensen-Cooper. “It will showcase our donors through a work of art.”

Another even larger piece of reclaimed beveled glass will connect to the Center Building’s roots. The 8-foot by 2 1/2-foot transom window was fashioned from 100-year-old glass original to the building.

Mark Skiba of Skiba Construction Co. is serving as general contractor on the project. Earlier this week his crew was hanging installation in anticipation of putting up the drywall. Although the rest of the Loft will retain its rustic warehouse character, when completed, the kitchen will have a drop ceiling and a laminate floor.

“We will do the drop ceiling and the laminate floor to bring it up to health code,” said Christensen-Cooper.

During the planning stages, input on how best to outfit the kitchen was sought from John Benson of JJ’s Catering & Rental, Ray Bock of Freemont Catering and Eric Peterson of The Fresh Palate.

“We consulted them not only from a catering standpoint, but also on how we could best function as a space for culinary arts instruction,” said Christensen-Cooper.

He and Education Coordinator Brooke Stevens anticipate the first cooking classes to begin with the Loft’s summer workshop schedule. Both said a lot of interest has been expressed by potential instructors and those wanting to take classes.

Not only is a new kitchen facility going in at the Loft, but also an easily accessible bathroom. Currently, those visiting Gallery 109 must use the bathrooms on the first floor of the Center Building.

A particular aspect Christensen-Cooper is enthused about is that by installing the kitchen, the Loft gains some additional exhibition space rather than losing any. During the 10-plus years the Loft has been in existence, black curtains hanging floor to ceiling have blocked off from view the storage/staging area that now is becoming the new kitchen. Those curtains are being replaced by a permanent wall from which more artwork can be exhibited.

“We have only had fabric walls there so now with it framed in, we will gain display space, which is phenomenal, and we never had to go into the footprint of the gallery to put in the kitchen,” he said. “It all was storage area.”

Funding for the kitchen/bath comes from a $25,000 Besser Foundation grant, with additional grants from the Park Family Foundation and the Community Foundation for Northeast Michigan. Others major contributors include several area businesses and individuals, plus proceeds from Art in the Loft’s signature Glamour and Gourmet fundraising event.

A Michigan Economical Development Council facade grant for the Center Building as a whole also has had a positive impact on the new kitchen. The MEDC grant allowed for installation of new windows in the building, which included opening up three windows in the kitchen that were previously board over and blocking out light.