Kirkwood's Culinary Program Sets Itself Apart by Bringing Classroom to Real World

Feb 2, 2017

The Kirkwood Culinary Arts program, located on campus in Cedar Rapids, was ranked as the #16 Culinary program in the country by Best Choice Schools. David Horsfield, department chair of hospitality at the school, says it's due to some true foresight Kirkwood leaders had in the late 2000s to create a classroom that would operate in the real world. The program has students serve regular guests off the street, instead of simply their teachers and fellow chefs-in-training. He dubs the inciting incident "the whisper story."

"Some of the team was in a meeting, and the conversation was turning to: how can we give those students this great opportunity? And the whisper literally was a whisper in somebody's ear in the middle of a meeting, 'You know, we really ought to build our own hotel,'" Horsfield says.

He explains that this allows students to be restaurant-tested before their first jobs. 

"If we had our own hotel, all the facilities and all the potential for students to be live and hands-on within that hotel, then we would be able to control that process and the student would get a much more controlled learning experience, rather than just being out there in industry and sometimes being overrun by the dynamic nature and pace of industry."

Now, six years after its opening, the facility contains one of the highest rated hotel properties in the state of Iowa and Kirkwood's Center for Hospitality Arts, which trains more than 100 students in culinary arts each semester. Students work in laboratories in their first year and then cook for real-life guests in the Class Act Restaurant in their second.

While Horsfield marvels at what the community college is able to accomplish because of the building, he understands what makes the program special.

"At the end of the day, if we take the building away, it's the curriculum, it's the classes, it's the people who remain. You can find beautiful buildings all across the nation. You can spend a lot of money going to schools in beautiful buildings. What I love about Kirkwood is that a student gets that same--if not, I would argue, even greater--experience, highly hands-on, practical, taught by people who care and who are passionate. And that's what I get excited about most."

In this Talk of Iowa interview, Charity Nebbe gets a tour of the facilities.