Wherever you go in Northwest Arkansas, it’s hard not to notice how many new restaurants are opening. With those new restaurants come jobs in the food service industry.
Those interested in developing skills that will allow them to thrive in these roles should consider attending Brightwater: A Center for the Study of Food at Northwest Arkansas Community College (NWACC).
Brightwater is an elevated culinary school that offers a variety of specialty degrees – students can choose to focus on artisanal foods, culinary arts, pastry and baking, and beverage arts. Any one of the degree programs can be completed in as little as four semesters.
“We look at the food system from ground, to conception, to consumption,” said Marshall Shafkowitz, executive director of Brightwater. “We teach our students about the broad food system, and then layer in food as business, food as nutrition, and food as art.”
The opportunities available to Brightwater graduates go beyond employment in a restaurant kitchen. Depending on the program and certification, some of the positions graduates are qualified for include restaurant owner, food journalist and photographer, cookbook author, cake decorator, sommelier, brand ambassador, wine distributor, caterer, recipe developer, and so many more.
One of Brightwater’s most recent success stories is the 120 Tapas Bar in Downtown Rogers that opened in fall 2021. Owner and head chef Bob Hiller is a Brightwater graduate. “The education you get at Brightwater is a great foundation for any career in the food industry,” said Hiller. “You can do pretty much anything with it as long as you have an open mind.”
Along with the degree tracks, Brightwater offers a certified sous chef apprenticeship program which combines classroom instruction and on-the-job training. The apprenticeship program is registered through the U.S. Department of Labor Registered Apprenticeship Programs and the American Culinary Federation Education Foundation (ACFEF). The cost of the curriculum for a student is less than $4,000, and participants are paid for the 4,000-6,000 hours of on-the-job training they receive over those two or three years. Once completed, students will receive a certificate of completion from the U.S. Department of Labor, and be eligible to complete written and practical exams to earn the Certified Sous Chef (CSC) credential through the American Culinary Federation (ACF).
Brightwater prides itself in being one of the more affordable options for culinary higher education. However, the unfortunate truth is that for some people any cost is unattainable. With support from the Walton Family Foundation and NWACC Foundation, there is now an opportunity for free Brightwater training through the B Workforce program. Participants of B Workforce undergo a five-week, 120-hour bootcamp that consists of four weeks of hands-on classroom education and 1 week of paid on-the-job training with a group of pre-selected employers. At the end of the bootcamp, they will have earned an American National Standards Institute (ANSI)–approved Food Handlers Certificate and will be prepared for an entry-level position in a professional kitchen. This free training is open to those 18 and older, and it grants participants with a $500 stipend for travel expenses. More information about the specific training and future bootcamp dates is available at the B Workforce webpage.
Brightwater offers four possible start times throughout the year. Students can start the fall semester in either mid-August or mid-October, and the spring semester also has two options in mid-January and mid-March. For career paths that are part of any branch of the culinary industry, Brightwater is a wonderful local resource that will provide valuable training no matter where someone may be in the journey into the world of food.