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Culinary, design departments partner to make chocolate violins

Early-college student creates templates for the sweet project

Photos by Andrew Schmidt, GRCC

Grand Rapids Community College — In the Maker Lab inside the Wisner-Bottrall Applied Technology Center, a laser worked its way across a sheet of plexiglass, cutting lines and curlicues to form the pieces of a violin mold.

In the near future, culinary students will fill the molds with liquid chocolate, which will harden into edible instrument parts. They will decorate the pieces with sugary whimsy and finesse, assemble them and put them on display near their classroom.

The community college’s Mechanical and Architectural Design and Secchia Institute for Culinary Arts are partnering to use (literally) cutting-edge laser technology to create the intricate molds for use in the course, Cake Decorating Basics. Marciana Gutierrez, who is pursuing her mechanical design degree through Kent ISD’s Launch U early college program, lent a hand by preparing the mold design templates using computer-aided design (CAD) software.

Mariciana, whose home district is Caledonia Public Schools, recently gathered with Mechanical and Architectural Design Assistant Professor Michael Merchant and Chef and Professor Gilles Renusson to cut the final molds.

“It’s really cool that I was able to help them become more efficient in making these violins,” said Marciana, who created the mold templates as an independent project. She is in the final year of the Launch U program and will graduate with an associate’s of arts and science degree in mechanical design. She plans to attend a four-year university next year and pursue a career in design. 

“It was a great application of the knowledge that she learned in the program,” Merchant said. “She could see a project come to life.”

Pretty and High-Tech Pastries

Five years ago Renusson started the decorating class to teach GRCC culinary students how to decorate wedding cakes. He was looking to incorporate centerpieces created from molding, cutting and forming. They created chocolate violins using cardboard molds, but found the pieces weren’t precise enough. 

Renusson approached Merchant about creating laser-cut molds and Merchant inquired whether a Launch U student was interested in designing the templates. 

Marciana, who he taught in previous classes, eagerly signed on. “Making the chocolate violin templates gave me real-world experience,” she said.

After completing one violin using the CAD molds, the trio returned to fine tune the templates and print final pieces with the lab’s laser system. The new molds will also allow for less chocolate waste.

“This is a craft, a skill,” said Merchant. “With the new technologies we have, we can bring in that technology into the pastry world.” 

The project also gave Marciana experience working with a client. Renusson had a vision for what he wanted the molds to look like and she and Merchant worked to meet his expectations, 

“We had to really nail down the exact ideas that Chef had,” Merchant said.

Merchant and Renusson have also partnered on other projects, including using lasers to etch and burn sugar to make it look like frosted glass. They used this technique in a display for the State Capitol in Lansing. They also worked together on a display using molds for Broadway Grand Rapids’ production of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

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