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 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.
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.”
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.
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.
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:
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.
Bob Noble, Kay Logsdon
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