KSU’s culinary program creates fresh opportunities for students

By DAVID ALMEDA

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Kennesaw State University’s culinary program may be just a year old, but it has no shortage of opportunities for anyone interested.

Open to all students, the KSU Institute for Culinary Sustainability and Hospitality offers unique, hands-on experiences and teaches culinary skills necessary if they want to enter the industry or if they want to literally spice up their college experience.

But for any of the around 200 majors in the program, the goal has much more substance than simply churning out chefs. When the program began in fall 2013, teaching sustainability and management was a prime goal.

More Than What’s Cooking

When the program was started last August, it stood out from many similar programs around the state and the country because teaching sustainability was a main focus.

“We are a culinary and hospitality management program focused in sustainability,” program coordinator Courtney Lancaster said. “So not one class is focused in sustainability; it’s throughout the entire curriculum.”

Courtney Lancaster posing next to a chalkboard at KSU. Photo by David Almeda.
Courtney Lancaster posing next to a chalkboard at KSU. Photo by David Almeda.

Lancaster is not the only one who sees the importance of that focus. Robert Nolen is the associate director of Culinary and Hospitality Services at KSU, the program’s biggest ally, and he sees how instrumental it is, especially if someone wants to start their own business in the future.

“One of the things they sought to do with this program is create an opportunity that gives students business experience and the culinary experience,” Nolen said. “How many times do you see somebody start a restaurant that has really good cooking skills but they don’t know how to manage their business and it goes under in six months? We’re trying to give you a four year degree with both of those pieces.”

Hands-On Experience On and Off Campus

The program also prides itself in its ability to let students get their hands dirty. The curriculum is full of classes that challenge students to apply everything they learn in their classes.

“I’ve got a basic culinary skills class, where our students have their lab at the stadium kitchen right now,” Lancaster said. “So they get to go over to the stadium and cook and learn stock, soup, sauces, how to sauté, basic skills.”

Another unique aspect that is engrained in the curriculum is the use of off-campus farms (KSU Owned Farms Educate, Feed Students). These can be used in different classes to help students learn about where the ingredients actually come from and about the work necessary to harvest them.

Many of the classes are in a “lecture and taste” format, allowing students to study food from different regions before actually tasting them. If you’re interested in beer or wine, there are even classes that allow students to study winemaking and another that lets them brew their own beers as a final project.

Collaboration

Of course, most of this would not be possible without the partnership that the Institute for Culinary Sustainability and Hospitality has with Culinary and Hospitality Services.

In addition to allowing classes to use the farms, Culinary and Hospitality Services, which runs The Commons as well as six other on-campus eateries, lets students gain experience in other ways.

“We’re bringing the students into the dining hall and we’re teaching the classes in the building,” Nolen said. “So we’re getting to use the kitchen not only to make food for everybody but to use it as a living laboratory.”

Nolen says that the collaboration between the two entities is a factor that makes the program stand out against many others.

“It’s unique in that we’re partnering with this four year degree program, Nolen said. “That’s the biggest piece of it that is something that other schools are lacking, especially with a four year culinary and business focus. In the South, especially, you don’t see many schools that are doing something like this. It really is a unique thing and this four year degree is one of the first in the country.”

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