On Location: Brightwater, A Center For The Study Of Food

On Location: Brightwater, A Center For The Study Of Food

Don’t expect an ordinary culinary school

There’s a place in Northwest Arkansas that’s changing the model for culinary training. If you go expecting to learn how to work in, own, or otherwise operate in a restaurant environment, you’ll soon find that is only a small percentage of the food-related opportunities that are available for you.

Brightwater, a Center for the Study of Food

Brightwater is a culinary school with a difference, manifested in many ways. Its total food systems approach for one. The school teaches conscious culinarians everything from sustainability, to food waste, to cooking and more.

Visitors to Brightwater, a center for the study of food, enter a common reception area, with open classrooms extending down the entire hallway.

The Commons Area at Brightwater.

Its own description says it was, “conceived to be more than a typical cooking school.”  It offers, “uniquely holistic programming with academic and career training in the areas of culinary nutrition, artisanal food, beverage management, and food entrepreneurship.”

Northwest Arkansas Community College is home to Brightwater, a center for the study of food.

Northwest Arkansas Community College. Photo: NWACC.

The school is a division of NorthWest Arkansas Community College, with all of the accreditation and services available to its students—including financial aid, scholarships, and an affordable tuition rate which varies according to residency. While it’s near the main campus, Brightwater has its own facility, thanks primarily to a grant from the Walton Family Foundation, which has provided start-up costs.

The Brightwater campus is located on the site of a former Tyson Foods processing plant, that has been renovated to include classrooms, kitchens and laboratories, a library, plus a greenhouse and outdoor garden. And, by “kitchens,” we mean a demonstration kitchen, a culinary kitchen, a pastry kitchen, a seasonal kitchen, a production kitchen—and classrooms including a specific beverage classroom. This allows the school to offer classes that not only teach culinary skills, but also address complex food issues such as food waste reduction, food security, seasonal cooking, applied farming, and nutrition.

The main hall of Brightwater is surrounded on both sides by open classrooms for the public to watch training and hands-on cooking sessions at any time during school hours.

Students outside the open display classrooms at Brightwater.

In addition to the Brightwater facilities, the renovated 27,500 square-foot building, the 8th Street Market, houses three restaurants and a chocolatier, with more businesses to come. Chef Instructor Roman Coley Davis calls it, “A great public-private partnership that attracts people and gives students the opportunity to see the business side of food. We encourage students to choose their own paths. The greatest success is seeing how the food world has responded to the ethos and philosophy of Brightwater.” For more from Chef Roman, see our profile here. There are also stories on two business within the 8th Street Market.

The Hollar, one of the many businesses and community gathering spaces in the 8th Street Market.

The Holler, one of the many businesses and community gathering spaces in the 8th Street Market.

Brightwater offers an Associated Arts & Science degree with a variety of emphases, including Beverage Management, Culinary Arts, Bakery & Pastry, and Artisanal Foods. They have specific program outcomes for each area of study that encompass things such as cost control, entrepreneurship, food safety, professionalism, food systems, and culinary/baking techniques.

A World of Resources And Opportunity

Student resources include access to the NWACC Library (physical and online), various equipment for scanning and printing, resource rooms for studying, and mentorship from the professors and chefs affiliated with Brightwater. During our visit, we sat down for discussions with several of the school’s instructors:

The Fayetteville Roots festival is a 5-day celebration of music, art and food in Northwest Arkansas.

Fayetteville Roots Festival.

Brightwater also takes seriously the idea of exposing students to real world opportunities—such as participation in the Fayetteville Roots Festival, guest chefs, and engagement with local chefs, farmers, growers and food entrepreneurs. The school’s marketing materials emphasize that, “Brightwater strives to encourage students to be influencers in society by seeing food as a connector to culture, art, the environment and the community.”

Looking for a career as a food stylist? Cookbook author? Food photographer? Butcher? Cake Decorator? Food Journalist? Educator? Brightwater has it, and more, regardless of your starting point.

Just don’t expect your experience to be ordinary.

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: Paul K. Logsdon.

Video Credits

Executive Producers

Bob Noble, Kay Logsdon

Executive in Charge of Production/Editor-In-Chief

John Scroggins

Creative Director/Videographer

David Nehmer


Joy Robertson

Associate Creative Director/Digital Editor

Dylan Corbett


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