NEW ORLEANS -- There is a major setback in the effort to bring a world-class cooking school to the city.
A who's who of celebrity chefs and restaurateurs turned out in December 2013 for the unveiling of the proposed New Orleans Culinary and Hospitality Institute (NOCHI).
NOCHI was supposed to transform the long underused Artworks Building on Howard Avenue near Lee Circle into a center for professional kitchen and hotel training.
"We're here because we see an opportunity," Commanders Palace Co-Proprietor Ti Martin said at the time. "An opportunity to honor the original mission of the ArtWorks building of investing in our cultural assets to strengthen the cultural fabric of New Orleans."
NOCHI was originally expected to open this fall. That was after a $10.5 million renovation to turn the building into a cooking school.
Thursday, there was no activity at the site, but signs on the building now indicate a Fall 2017 opening. However, that too may be jeopardy.
Delgado Community College, which originally pledged $9 million toward the NOCHI project is no longer involved. Chancellor Joan Davis confirmed funding for the project was put on hold by Governor John Bel Edwards' administration.
Chef Kevin Belton from the New Orleans School of Cooking in the French Quarter said a world-class culinary institute is needed in the Crescent City.
"As I'm getting older and a lot of us are getting older, we need the youth to become part of this industry because nobody entertains people better than the folks in New Orleans,” Belton said.
GNO INC President and CEO Michael Hecht now expects the local business community to help prop up the NOCHI project.
"This is an export industry," Hecht said. "This is individuals from around the country and the world, bringing their dollars into us to be trained in cooking and then its about us exporting local New Orleanians to the world. This is not just about the food industry. It's about economic development effort in a broad way."
Chef Belton hopes NOCHI can get back on track.
"Hopefully, we can all pull together and get that done," Belton said. "We are the number one industry in the city besides the river."
Rep. Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans, whose district includes NOCHI said the project isn't dead, but admits backers are now looking for new sources of funding.
(© 2016 WWL)