Fostering Talent

Lexington, KY – Higher education institutions can enhance their surrounding regions in many ways, and Sullivan University ( is no different. One fairly unique aspect about Sullivan’s Lexington campus is its culinary programs. Specialized programs like those offered at Sullivan can enhance the food-service talent pool and are a great example of higher-end workforce development. Recently I sat down with chef John Foster, Sullivan’s associate culinary chair, to discuss this.
Foster has been cooking since he was a child and has broad experience and education in the food industry. Early in his career, he worked in a variety of positions, including a stint as a fish cutter in a Northeast fish market. He graduated from the French Culinary School in New York City and eventually relocated to the Lexington area. For 10 years, he was the executive chef at Dudley’s and subsequently owned his own restaurant, Harvest.
For the past six years, he has been teaching at Sullivan’s culinary program and has found it to be a highly rewarding endeavor. Because of his many connections in the area, he is able to help place students in valuable externship programs to give them real-world experience. Currently there are 24 restaurants in the region that have this relationship with the Lexington culinary program.
At the Lexington campus, a student can earn an associate degree in culinary arts or a bachelor’s degree in hospitality management. There is also an opportunity to add on an accreditation in the personal private chef area of study.
Many of the students in the culinary program have some background in the industry and desire to bolster their resume and credentials through Sullivan. However, there are also many who just have a passion for food and want to make a career in the field. The Lexington campus will usually graduate 30-50 culinary students in a year.
A student in the 18-month associate degree program will take non-culinary classes to ensure a broad-based education foundation and will also take several rigorous and hands-on culinary classes. The key initial course is the basic-skills course, which is comprehensive. After that, there are courses in topics such as baking, advanced techniques, international cuisine and garde manger (gahrd mahn-ZHAY). Then there is the invaluable externship program, where students leap from the campus culinary kitchen/lab environment into a real-world culinary environment. All this leads to the graduates being well prepared for their new careers.
Sullivan graduates can be found in numerous local restaurants. Additionally, many have gone on to jobs on cruise ships, institutional food-service positions at health-care, corporate and military facilities as well as resorts and country clubs.
From Foster’s perspective, one of the effects of Sullivan’s program in Lexington and the surrounding region is that it has raised expectations regarding qualifications for culinary positions in the Bluegrass area. Foster said that when he first moved to Lexington, one of the primary questions asked of a culinary applicant was “Whom have you worked for?” Today, Foster said, applicants are asked about their culinary academic credentials.
The school is also influencing the region’s attitudes toward food for the better in other ways. The day I was visiting, Foster was also planning for a meeting with the head of nutrition and food service of a school district near Lexington to discuss how to improve the health and nutritional profile of school food service.
The faculty of this program represents a human-resource asset for the region and the state. One former Lexington campus instructor, chef Steven Adkins, last year opened a restaurant with partner Cameron Morgan. That restaurant is The Crossroad On Southland (, a nice venue for food and music.
The Lexington campus is, of course, merely one important component of the overall Sullivan presence in Kentucky, with the main campus being in Louisville. It is also part of Sullivan’s National Center for Hospitality Studies, and its accreditations include the American Culinary Federation. According to founder and chancellor Al “A.R.” Sullivan, Sullivan is now the state’s largest private independent four-year university, with a broad array of programs. The Louisville campus has a baking and pastry program along with actual operating foodservice businesses, such as Winston’s restaurant, Julep’s Catering and The Bakery. Additionally, in 2008, a team of instructors and students from Sullivan were in charge of the baking and pastries for the U.S. Olympic Team in Beijing.
A key driver for any thriving economic sector is the regional talent base. In the culinary sector, Sullivan University’s culinary programs have increased expectations and raised the talent bar.

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