Feature: Savory Education

Rural kitchen utensils on vintage planked wood table from above - rustic background with free text space.
 

Culinary schools in Arkansas prepare aspiring chefs for the Natural State’s eclectic food scene.

 

Arkansas is booming with an authentic and compelling culinary scene. Restaurants boast a variety of cuisine and top chefs who work hard to prepare unforgettable fare. Local chefs, from Little Rock to Fayetteville and throughout the state, are commonly featured in publications and special news segments. Their creativity is evident as they share their delectable dishes with foodies and food critics. Culinary schools in Arkansas enhance this thriving food scene by offering state-of-the-art programs and amenities for aspiring chefs.

The interest in culinary arts puts Arkansas on a path for continued growth and prosperity, Montine McNulty, executive director of the Arkansas Hospitality Association, said. Culinary schools in Arkansas have made “an exciting difference in raising the level of food creativity in our state,” she said. “That creative talent and the knowledge of food and alcohol trends are making a positive impact on the food scene here. Our industry is predicted to continue to lead employment growth in Arkansas, and restaurant growth and culinary training is a big part of that optimism.”

People may think of New York, Houston or Chicago when culinary schools come to mind, but Arkansas has become an ideal destination for cooking enthusiasts and baking aficionados. The state’s thriving agriculture and farming industry is a bonus — fresh ingredients are abundant and this allows for even more creativity. Also, there’s a nice sense of camaraderie among chefs throughout the state; they often work together to benefit communities through events and festivals and support aspiring chefs as they learn the trade at local culinary schools.

Arkansas is home to two premier culinary schools, one at Pulaski Technical College in Little Rock and the other at NorthWest Arkansas Community College in Bentonville. Other schools that offer culinary courses and programs include Arkansas Technical University in Russellville and Ozarka College in Melbourne.

One of this summer’s baking camps at PTC; photo by Cindy Momchilov

One of this summer’s baking camps at PTC; photo by Cindy Momchilov

Pulaski Technical College Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management Institute

Located off Interstate 30 near the Pulaski/Saline County line, the institute is accredited by the American Culinary Federation Education Foundation and the Accrediting Commission for Programs in Hospitality Administration, according to its website, pulaskitech.edu/culinary, thus Pulaski Technical College Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management Institute (PTC-CAHMI) graduates enter the workforce with the nationally recognized culinary and hospitality credentials.

Chef Todd Gold, dean of PTC-CAHMI; photo by Cindy Momchilov

Chef Todd Gold, dean of PTC-CAHMI; photo by Cindy Momchilov

The program started in 1996 as the Arkansas Culinary School and merged with Pulaski Technical College in 2006. Todd Gold, a certified executive chef, incorporated the school and served as president of Arkansas Culinary School for the first 10 years. He’s now the institute’s dean.

Students’ ages range from 18 to 72, with the average being 28 to 32, Gold said. Tuition varies based upon the degree or certificate. “Most certificates of proficiency costs’ range between $2,325 and $4,325; technical certificates range between $4,650 and $8,150; and associates degrees range between $10,740 and $16,740,” he said.

Gold said what makes Pulaski Tech’s culinary institute unique is that all programs have national and/or international accreditations, and all instructors are certified and have practical experience.

“[In addition], our facilities are second to none around the nation, and there is much value in affordability when comparing us to other known culinary schools. As far as job placement goes, we always have more requests than students to fill, our faculty-to-student ratio is 1-to-15 or less, and we have many local, regional and national scholarships opportunities.”

Students gain valuable networking opportunities and hands-on foundational skills as they also stay on top of the latest trends, Gold noted.

PTC-CAHMI also offers students a range of opportunities for whatever field they want to achieve. “From hospitality to culinary to baking to wine studies to mixology to micro brew and even fermentation, urban gardening and working with our beehives, students can earn degrees in all of these areas or just one,” Gold said.

The institute welcomes the community at large by hosting events and courses for adults and children. Culinary and baking camps are held in the summer for children. Classes teaching culinary, baking, and food and wine pairing skills are held for adults throughout the year. Those classes range from $60 to $80 per person.

The general public has an opportunity to experience the fruits of PTC-CAHMI’s students’ labor. The Food IV class serves dinner on Tuesdays; lunch is prepared and served on Wednesdays by the Food III class; and the Food IV class will serve dinner on Thursdays. The next round of these gourmet meals starts Aug. 30 and runs through Nov. 17. Lunch and dinner are by reservation only and spaces fill up quickly, Gold said. Capacity is about 40 guests per service, he said. Guests may bring their own wine for dinner.

For more information about PTC-CAHMI, the community classes and the lunch and dinner services, log on to pulaskitech.edu/culinary.

core entryway for Brightwater Facility on Eighth Street in Downtown Bentonville; rendering by Hufft Projects

core entryway for Brightwater Facility on Eighth Street in Downtown Bentonville; rendering by Hufft Projects

Brightwater | A Center for the Study of Food, NorthWest Arkansas Community College

NorthWest Arkansas Community College, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, provides a variety of certificate and associate degree options in a small environment. Students can choose among the fine arts of culinary arts, baking and pastry arts, and hospitality and restaurant management.

Brightwater uses inquiry-based learning methods to teach the whole food system and not just cooking skills, Glenn Mack, Brightwater’s executive director, said. “Our facility sits within an 80,000-square-foot, food-focused adaptive-reuse project, and all of the tenants are working together as educators and mentors to support the next generation of culinary professionals and entrepreneurs. In addition to strong culinary skills, our curriculum requires that students learn how food is grown and transported to market and their role in a responsible supply chain.”

The program was founded in 2006. The average age of students is 29. The cost is a little less than $10,000 for a two-year associate’s degree, and courses are designed to suit just about anyone’s schedule. Instructors come to the college with years of professional experience and constantly update their skills to provide the most up-to-date instruction possible.

Brightwater Facility commons area with kitchen observation deck; rendering by Hufft Projects

Brightwater Facility commons area with kitchen observation deck; rendering by Hufft Projects

Mack, an Arkansas native, has been at the school for a little more than a year. Before returning to Arkansas, he led culinary schools in Singapore, Atlanta, Miami and Austin, Texas. Learning about food, agriculture and wellness helps support a healthy and vibrant community, he said, noting that this inquiry-based learning sets Brightwater apart in the culinary school world.

“We approach food as art, food as wellness and food as business in order to prepare students to work in Northwest Arkansas and beyond,” Mack said. “In addition to specializations in artisanal food, culinary arts, pastry and baking and beverage management, we also have major program focus on culinary nutrition, reducing food waste and improving food insecurity. Special classes in applied farming, seasonal cooking and the art of fermentation are among the many one-of-a-kind classes to be found in culinary education in the United States.”

A new 27,500-square-foot shared space for artisans, housed in a refurbished former Tyson Foods plant in downtown Bentonville, is set to open this fall for the program.

“We will have a special kitchen dedicated to butchery and charcuterie, a temperature- and humidity-controlled pastry kitchen, equipment to make artisan bread, the latest equipment for modernist techniques and a range of equipment for food preservation,” Mack said.

A demonstration kitchen, event space and a teaching bar also are in the plans. Mack added, “Outside we have a pizza oven, smoker/grill, as well as a greenhouse and garden that will provide food for the classroom and deepen our students’ hands-on experience of growing produce.”

Like the Pulaski Tech culinary institute, Brightwater also offers classes to non-students. A number of recreational classes and team-building activities are offered to the public as well as continuing education for industry professionals. Mack said, “Examples of enthusiast classes are wine appreciation, breads, cakes, decorating, cheese, international cuisine, nutrition and outdoor cooking. We also offer butchery, charcuterie, advanced bread and chocolate work, among others to the industry.”

For more information, about the culinary programs at Brightwater, log on to nwacc.edu/web/programs_culinary_arts.


Students prepping to cater a college event; photo by Manda Jackson

Students prepping to cater a college event; photo by Manda Jackson

Ozarka College in Melbourne

Ozarka College in Melbourne established its culinary arts program in 1984. The two-year program “stresses the cultivation of fundamental skills during the first year. This is when students learn the basics,” said Alden Griffus, program director. “The second year, students learn how to prepare international cuisine and practical skills, which they apply while working in our café. Our goal is that they become culinarians who can effectively enter the job force immediately.”

“We have a healthy number of traditional and non-traditional students in the program,” Griffus said. “Many of the non-traditional students are starting their second careers. Some are veterans. They’re a good representation of our hospitality industry, which is an eclectic mix of people who come to the industry with a desire to serve others.”

Log on to ozarka.edu and search for AAS Culinary Arts for more information.


Photo by Liz Chrisman

Photo by Liz Chrisman

Arkansas Tech University in Russellville

Arkansas Tech University in Russellville offers students an opportunity to earn a certificate of proficiency. The course of study “prepares students for entry-level employment in the food industry” and consists of 15 credit hours. The university’s associate of applied science degree in culinary management is a 61-hour program that prepares graduates for careers in restaurant management, catering and related fields. The cost, at current tuition and mandatory fee rates, is about $17,000. For further information, log on to atu.edu/prha/stulrn_culmgmt.php.


Wrenfrow instructing a student; photo courtesy of ASU

Wrenfrow instructing a student; photo courtesy of ASU

ASU’s Hospitality Service Program

Arkansas State University — Newport also offers a Hospitality Service Program, which consists of three options: hospitality services, food services management and culinary service. Students enrolled in the culinary service program may earn a technical certificate or an associate of applied science, general technology degree.

Jessica Wrenfrow is an instructor of hospitality services. “What’s really wonderful is that students step from a certificate of proficiency into a technical certificate then into an associate degree.”

She said the programs are designed to ensure the students attend a number of classes in the other disciplines so they enjoy a well-rounded experience. The students also intern locally during their last semester of study. “They glean experience and the community’s workforce benefits as well. We also offer to the general public culinary experience classes each month.”

Arkansas State University — Newport’s hospitality courses are taught at 5504 Krueger Drive in Jonesboro. For more information, email Wrenfrow at jessica_wrenfrow@asun.edu.


The Science of Food

The foodcentric program at Henderson State University focuses on the science of food. The college has a foods and nutrition program and a didactic program in dietetics.

The food and nutrition program is “designed to help students build a strong foundation in foods and nutrition with courses in meal management, food sciences ad and food systems management, to name a few. When complete, students receive bachelor’s degrees in family and consumer sciences with a specialization in foods and nutrition.

The didactic program in dietetics (DPD) program is “designed to help students build a foundation in nutritional sciences with a strong liberal arts core and to prepare for a career as a registered dietitian. DPD’s focus is on basic, advanced and community nutrition; nutrition through the life cycle; food science and economics; food service management and sports nutrition. Upon completion, students will have earned bachelor’s degrees in family and consumer sciences with a dietetics specialization.

Tuition, under current rate, for these four-year programs is about $32,000. For more information, log on to hsu.edu.

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