We first caught Chef Phil Dreshfield, Department Chair at Brightwater, a Center for the Study of Food, as he was teaching a class. Students at individual stations were mixing, baking, filling, cleaning, wrapping, and everything that goes along with the creation of croissants, scones, and filled pastries of all sorts—even bao rolls.
Like An Orchestra Conductor
While the smells were heavenly, it was the efficiency that stood out. Sheet pans full of dough or finished product were delivered constantly. A chorus of, “Yes, Chef,” filled the air whenever an instruction was given. And Dreshfield was everywhere—checking the size of the rolls, correcting a technique, encouraging the students as they worked. It’s no wonder he can lead the baking program for Brightwater as well as deliver the ProStart curriculum.
Get Dreshfield talking about ProStart and his eyes light up. “We’ve doubled the number of students in the program in this state right here at Brightwater,” he says, with pride. “And we’re teaching the instructors, as well.”
A Unique View Of The World Of Food
ProStart is an industry-driven two year curriculum designed for high school juniors and seniors to get an introduction to a career in foodservice. It’s been around for some 20 years, with more than 150,000 students in the program worldwide. At Brightwater, where about 75 high school students come to take classes, it’s a hybrid program that offers the best of both worlds—college credit for their work through Northwest Arkansas Community College, and high school credit, not to mention a view of the food world few get at that age.
Students are taught management, costing, communication skills—what they call 21st Century soft skills—and basic culinary. They attend classes at least two days a week, and have the opportunity for a practicum with industry professionals.
In addition, Brightwater works with “Ignite,” an industry immersion program offered through the Bentonville School District. This hybrid program meets the needs of diverse ages and skill sets and is, as Dreshfield says, “definitely one of a kind.” He adds, “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for local high school students.”
The chef also sings the praises of the community that has supported Brightwater’s innovative approach to education—chief among that support a grant from the Walton Family Foundation. “With the growth of Northwest Arkansas, the opportunities for students are amazing—just the fact that they can put their toes in the water!”
Dreshfield has been with Brightwater since its beginning, meaning he was there before its January 2017 opening. He was attracted away from a bakery, where he daily made pastries for sale.
As we thanked him for his influence on the scone we’d sampled earlier, his eyes twinkled as he asked, “So I haven’t lost my touch?”
No, chef, you haven’t. And we suspect your influence is going to spread well beyond the classroom in the years to come. In fact, we can almost taste it.
This is part of The Food Channel‘s On Location series at The Fayetteville Roots Festival. For other stories in the series, click here. You’ll find links at the end of that article that go live as new articles and videos are posted.
Photos by Paul K. Logsdon.