The two year Culinary Arts and Hospitality program started with ten students in 2007, and now boasts and enrollment of 173. Chef Michael Kuefner, an instructor at the program, says developing a strong set of basic skills is important, if students want to succeed.
"If you only work in one restaurant you can probably survive with the techniques that you learn there, but if you want to advance and work with different chefs you should have a very deep fundamental knowledge of culinary art," he says. "School gives you the basics to survive in all types of kitchens."
The students learn the fundamentals in the lab, and then venture out to gain experience in a working kitchen.
"We really try to focus on hands on experience," says . "We want them to go out into the industry and have an experience with a restaurant or a hotel where they can really see the application that they learn here."
Chef Rob Nelson of Tusk and Trotter says his kitchen has hosted four interns.
"It's great for us as a business being able to help out the community and the school, and it gives us a look at the up and coming culinarians here in Northwest Arkansas," he says. "It's real world experience and with our restaurant we do everything from scratch, so that's exactly what they're learning how to do."
Nelson hired two of the interns, but they've already moved on to bigger and better jobs. He says their success is proof of the program's value.
"We've got restaurants opening every day, we've got hotels opening up, so a culinary arts program and a restaurant hospitality program is really beneficial for the area," he says. "Before that people had to go out of state. I had to leave Northwest Arkansas to get my education and fortunately I came back to the area because I love it."
He says his story is uncommon, however.
"You don't usually see that," he says. "Normally they go off and never come back to the area. Now it's great that we're breeding homegrown chefs."