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Sullivan University’s Louisville campus is probably the best-smelling campus in Kentucky.

Students in the school’s culinary arts program, in its National Center for Hospitality Studies, whip up aromatic dishes all day long in the school’s classes, its highly acclaimed restaurant called Winston’s, its pastry shop called simply The Bakery, and its catering business, Juleps.

Jamie Hicks, a 2003 graduate and now a chef and food service director at Atria Assisted Living in Elizabethtown, says, “I learned about food from all over the world. We cooked umpteen dishes and gained 30 pounds.”

But Sullivan University’s best-known program wasn’t one of the main courses when the school opened in 1962. Culinary arts started in 1982 at the school’s Fort Knox campus when the U.S. Army contacted school leaders to ask if they could train cooks for the military. The program moved to the Louisville campus in 1987.

Sullivan let the cooking program gradually thicken into a culinary arts program that has produced lots of locally known cooks, and some who may fare well nationally. Sullivan’s first class on its Louisville campus graduated in 1989. Now, about 1,000 students at a time, from 38 states and a dozen countries, attend culinary arts classes on Sullivan’s Louisville campus.

Many students are from rural Kentucky, says chef Kimberley Jones, who came to Sullivan to start its professional catering program eight years ago. She says Sullivan has changed the cooking landscape in Kentucky. Jones lives in Lebanon and Louisville, spending at least half her time in Lebanon.

“Sullivan has drawn students from smaller towns and outlying areas who would not have the courage to go away to New York or Florida or some place so far from home,” says Jones. “We give them a great base of education so that if they want to go back to their communities and start a restaurant or catering business, they can do that. They have the confidence and courage to take the next step. We are taking students from outlying parts of Kentucky and they are taking back skills and knowledge that are helping to educate those communities.”

Danielle Caudill, 19, of Delphia, is one of those rural students. Caudill says she plans to return to Delphia and start a catering business after completing her bachelor’s at Sullivan. In high school, Caudill made cakes, and her work became so popular she almost couldn’t keep up. Local residents are anxious for her return.

“There is not really any catering businesses there,” Caudill says. “There are a few that mostly do wedding cakes, but that’s about it. That area is starting to grow—they just built a new justice center. (A catering business) will be something they can use.”

Ben Story, from Paducah, will complete his associate degree by March. He says he likes staying relatively close to home, and that the education he got at Sullivan was “just as good” as any far-flung culinary school. He plans to stay in Kentucky.

Sullivan works well, Story says, for “people who don’t want to go to big cities and want to get their experience here, close to home. It’s also good for people in Louisville who have jobs already and want to further their education.”

Sullivan students can earn an associate of science degree in any one of five areas of concentration: baking and pastry arts, culinary arts, professional catering, hotel and restaurant management, and travel, tourism, and event management. A bachelor of science degree in business administration, Hospitality Management, is available on the Louisville campus as well as online.

A more informal program offers three training tracks that can be completed in a year in its “career-in-a-year” diploma program; those concentrations are professional baker, professional cook, and travel and tourism. Travel and tourism courses are also available on Sullivan’s Lexington campus.

President A.R. Sullivan says the culinary program isn’t old enough to have produced a household-name chef yet, but among its graduates is the personal chef to TV late-night host Jimmy Kimmel.

Students at the hands-on school attend classes year-round, and are expected to work in a local restaurant or one of the campus businesses—Winston’s, Juleps, or The Bakery—before graduation.

“If we called a mandatory meeting on a Friday night, we could close down half of the restaurants in Louisville,” Sullivan says.

Sullivan says the point of the externships, as the outside work is called, is to make sure that students have practical experience that will help them get a job when they graduate. Apparently that philosophy works.

“One of the things we are proudest of is every graduate who has wanted a job in food service has gotten a job,” Sullivan says.

Bill Ware, the senior chef at Lake Cumberland State Resort Park in Jamestown, earned both an associate and bachelor’s degree from Sullivan.

Ware was originally pursuing a dual degree in physics and electrical engineering at Georgetown College in Georgetown, and at the University of Kentucky, when he took a cafeteria job at Georgetown. He found himself enjoying the work so much that even after transferring to the University of Kentucky for more electrical engineering classes, he still wanted to work in a restaurant. He abandoned science for a more artistic pursuit, cooking. Ware was living in Lexington when he commuted to Louisville to earn his associate degree in Culinary Arts Management from Sullivan in 1994.

Ware went on to get his bachelor of science degree in business administration with a concentration in Hospitality Management online from Sullivan in 2004.

Sullivan, Ware says, took his raw desire to cook and made it into a career.

“No culinary school can teach you how to cook,” Ware says. “They can teach you some of the basic skills. But as far as teaching you how to cook, there is a point where science drops off and creative arts take over. Culinary education can take a person who has creative talent and help them refine it into skill over time.”

Chef Allen Akmon, a Shelbyville resident and chef instructor at Sullivan, says besides smelling great, the atmosphere within Sullivan’s culinary program is collegial, which makes it a nice place to work and teach.

“For the most part, everybody puts their egos aside,” Akmon says. “There is a lot of helping and teamwork. That’s one of the major successes of the faculty. It makes my job more fun.”


Culinary arts program at Sullivan University

Location: 3101 Bardstown Road, Louisville

Program established: 1982 on Fort Knox campus, moved to Louisville campus in 1987

Degrees available: associate and bachelor’s

Students: 1,000 enrolled each year

Instructors: 26

Number of kitchens on campus: 13

Business ventures:

Winston’s, a restaurant

The Bakery, a bakery

Juleps, a catering business

Web site:


Ask John Castro, executive chef at Winston’s restaurant on Sullivan’s Louisville campus, to describe Sullivan University’s cooking style, and he’ll tell you classical, with Southern influences and regional products.

Think comfort food, with style.

For example, Castro has taken the traditional “hot brown” and made it into a “not brown.” While a hot brown has a slice of ripe red tomato baked in, Castro’s version incorporates a fried green tomato. He also substitutes shrimp and crab for turkey. “It sells really well,” Castro says.

But, says Castro, that doesn’t mean that the only food students learn to cook has local roots. Castro and other instructors at the school take students through a variety of world cuisines, so that no matter the situation, they can prepare meals that will be enjoyed, if not cherished, by any kind of audience.

“We try to make sure that after all of that structure is put into place, that we go into a global thought process, so that they are exposed to foods all over the world, because they are going to encounter them,” Castro says. “If you are going to live in the world, you are going to have to produce food for the world.”

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