by Christy Truitt
Auburn University students in white coats with steaming dishes circle the community table at the Tony and Libba Rane Culinary Science Center lobby. Faculty and a few lucky passersby follow their noses to discover the feast complete with the Italian dish Osso Buco with Risotto, beef shank brazed with vegetables, white wine, and broth. Tender to a fork. Desserts include Biscotti made with Nutella, an instructor brought from home. The long dining table in the room center, placed specifically to induce a family room feel, fills with community and conversation between bites of food.
The occasion? A mid-day Wednesday culinary class within Auburn University’s Hospitality Management Program. But the meal and the student laboratory are anything but ordinary. In the fall of 2022, Auburn University opened the doors of The Rane Culinary Science Center, a 155,000-square-foot facility. The corner of Thach Avenue and College Street has been transformed to include a boutique luxury hotel and spa named The Laurel Hotel & Spa, the teaching restaurant 1856 – Culinary Residence (the University’s birth year), as well as classrooms and food production/demonstration laboratories.
The space isn’t confined to the hos- pitality students and faculty either. University students of all walks, as well as Auburn citizens and visitors, gather at the ThriveHere@Auburn Coffee Roastery and Café or Hey Day Market with food stalls serving globally-inspired cuisine. In addition, the rooftop lounge displays unparalleled city views, particularly at sunset, with a garden maintained by the horticulture department.
“This space is the only one of its kind in the world,” says Hans van der Reijden, CEO and founder of Ithaka Hospitality Partners. “And 1856 is believed to be the only teaching restaurant with a tasting menu. We have a two-story wine cellar with a Master Sommelier who is the only one in Alabama and one of only 257 in the world. The Center is a world-renowned facility built with academics first and commercial enterprise second, all under one roof.” He adds the majority of The Laurel Hotel & Spa patrons within the first month resided locally. “The support of the community has been overwhelm- ing. The Laurel is the perfect staycation.”
David Martin, Ph.D., associate pro- fessor of the School of Hospitality Management and the Brewing Sciences Program, pinches himself daily at a dream’s fruition. Martin, who has earned three degrees from Auburn University, was involved in the early discussions for the project and traveled around the world with van der Reijden to benchmark other ventures. He now walks the halls, visits cooking classrooms filled with natural light and top-of-the-line Viking appli- ances, and calls out to students by name. He gestures to the brewery equipment installed with plans for a craft brewery and tasting room to open in spring 2023.
“This building is the culmination of years of the program. It’s a reflection of the University’s culture and the program’s quality. The access I have to the students makes me a better faculty member. The public areas unite the Auburn family,” says Martin, emphasizing the wall-sized video screens inside the lobby and in the Hey Day common area. “We can project film classes from upstairs into the lobby so the public can watch cooking demon- strations. We can project the New York Times Square ball drop in the common area on New Year’s Eve. Or a university equestrian event, a volleyball match, all sports.”
Auburn University Trustee James W. Rane donated the funds for the Center to honor his parents, Tony and Libba Rane. Tony, the son of Italian immigrants, scratched out a successful career in hotel, retail store, and restaurant ownership with his loving wife Libba by his side. The Center emulates the couple’s “entre- preneurial spirit and fierce love of family, country, and cooking.”
The Center hosted an inaugural Epicurean Experience the weekend of Nov. 4-6. Future events are planned. To learn more about each ven- ture, upcoming events, and reservations, please visit www.ranecenter.auburn.edu.