Culinary Arts Month

Louisville and Chattanooga Culinary Arts Programs are Changing Lives

Kentucky and Tennessee are states known for their fine cooking and for producing world renowned chefs.  The Salvation Army is doing its part to promote innovations in American cuisine and encourage the careers of aspiring chefs through The Salvation Army Louisville and The Salvation Army Chattanooga culinary arts programs. The programs are changing lives and promoting lifelong self-sufficiency by providing the education students need to compete for jobs in the highly desirable field of culinary arts.

Makeda Freeman-Woods graduated from The Salvation Army Louisville’s Culinary Arts Program in 2016. She has since accepted a full scholarship to Sullivan University’s Culinary Arts degree program and started her own business, Sista Cakes LLC.

Makeda Freeman-Woods, a June 2016 graduate of the Louisville program, can attest to the life-changing quality of the culinary arts program at Louisville.

“It changed my life.  I was not in a good place before I started the program. They pushed me out of my comfort zone and changed the trajectory of my life,” Freeman-Woods said.

The single mother was an outstanding student in the course and her dedication to her studies resulted in a scholarship to Sullivan University’s Culinary Arts degree program.

“I am currently in my third semester at Sullivan University.  I should graduate in the summer of 2018. When I started this journey, I decided I wanted to be an entrepreneur.  I have my own small business called Sista Cakes LLC.  I do vending, catering, personal chef work and food delivery. I have a Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/Sista-Cakes-LLC-577664422393676/ ). Through my business, I am supporting myself and my three children,” Freeman- Woods said.

David Yarmuth, Director of Community Relations for The Salvation Army Louisville, said their culinary arts program has a long history with Sullivan University.

“We partnered with Sullivan University and they provide a lot of support to us. Chef Jackson Hodges completed our culinary arts program and was the first recipient of a full-ride scholarship to Sullivan University.  As his way to give back, he teaches the culinary arts classes at The Salvation Army Louisville,” Yarmuth said.

The 10-week Louisville program consists of 40 hours of classroom studies in the culinary arts, 100 hours of cooking instruction, and 10 hours of topical learning such as effective communication, self-marketing, resume development, and workplace ethics.

Participants in The Salvation Army Louisville’s Culinary Program must show a passion for cooking.

Yarmuth and Freeman-Woods agree that a love for cooking is essential.

“To succeed in this culinary arts program, students have to have a passion for cooking and the self-confidence to commit to vigorous instruction from 8 a.m. to noon 3 days a week, Mon-Wed-Fri, for 10 weeks. The ones who succeed know this program is their ticket to a new life and a new career.  It is a ticket out for them and with the ability to work at something they are passionate about.  Passion is what drives this program,” Yarmuth said.

The required dedication to the program is too much for some.

“At the culinary arts program, we started with 8 students and finished with 4.  Half of the class made it through.  You have to be there on time and in your uniform. It’s work and you have to put effort in to it,” Freeman-Woods said.

In her opinion, completing the program was worth every ounce of effort.

“I’m able to show my children that anything is possible if you work hard and believe in yourself,” Freeman-Woods said.

While the culinary arts program may be challenging, applying is easy with an online application linked to The Salvation Army Louisville’s website,  http://salvationarmykentucky.org/louisville/culinary-arts-training-program/.

“This program is really open to anyone.  We try to gear it towards the low income and homeless individuals, but anyone whose life isn’t really going the way they want it to be going and they have a passion for cooking, they can apply.  It’s not hard to get in the program but it’s hard to stay in the program,” Yarmuth said.

Students at the culinary arts school at The Salvation Army Chattanooga often earn internships that lead to jobs in the restaurant and hospitality industries.

According to the website, applicants must remain sober throughout the training, must participate in counseling to address other life issues that exist, and must have no competing demands on their time during the course.

“Many of our students go on to a variety of careers. Some go into catering, others in to the restaurant industry or the hospitality industry. Some have opened their own baking business or a food truck business. This is a very strong culinary town and we have some fantastic chefs,” Yarmuth said.

“When the program is called ‘life-changing’, it is absolutely true. I have heard it from the mouths of our students many times. We’ve had 100 to 125 graduates since we began the program in 2005. The program has a snowball effect. A large part of the success of the program is people discover their own self-confidence.  They learn they have the fortitude to accomplish this challenging curriculum and it is very empowering. The students who complete this program learn not only culinary skills, they learn personal development. They know they can walk in to any kitchen and know what to do. They have the ability to compete with other culinary school graduates,” Yarmuth said.

Kimberly Kyriakidis George, Director of Marketing and Development, The Salvation Army Greater Chattanooga, agrees with Yarmuth and Freeman-Woods about the “life-changing” aspect of their School of Culinary Arts.

“Absolutely, the program is amazing and life-changing for the students. It helps with new job skills for individuals, which then enables them to move forward in their lives and to be self-supportive,” George said.

The Chattanooga culinary arts school is a twelve-week job training/internship program that focuses on teaching homeless and low income persons.

According to their website, http://www.csarmy.org/programs_culinary.asp, the training focus is on food and kitchen safety and sanitation, proper use of equipment including basic knife skills, cooking theory and techniques, serving methods, kitchen operations and environmentally-friendly gardening.

The Salvation Army Louisville and Chattanooga culinary arts program offer students an opportunity to see the gospel in action.

“We have a smaller class in a working kitchen.  We currently have three students with the capability of five. Our culinary program began 7 or 8 years ago. Chef Epps interviews them in person and takes them through the steps himself,” George said.

She said that Terry Epps, a Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef, consults with chefs and culinary instructors throughout Greater Chattanooga. He then brings those experiences, skills and lessons into the lives of his students.

“All of our programs offer health, hope and healing.  With this program, the students can work towards the future with hope and they come from a variety of different pasts. So their healing is a spiritual healing.  We meet them where they are and through this program, they see the gospel in action,” George said.

Like the Louisville culinary program, there is an emphasis on self-worth and self-sufficiency along with providing marketable job skills through education and experience. There is also a requirement to be drug-free, as well as to have a desire to improve their lives through a passion for cooking.

“Our students move on to several different types of food services employment but often it is in hotel industries, catering, and at our local baseball park. Students often get internships, too, to various businesses. Often they are then hired to work where they have interned,” George said.

Neither the Louisville or Chattanooga culinary arts program charge tuition. With the best-known culinary schools in the U.S. charging in the range of $20,000 to $100,000 for a two-year associate’s degree – that’s quite a bargain.

Needless to say, both culinary arts programs rely on donors and organizations to underwrite the costs. So, just as The Salvation Army is doing its part to keep and to raise the level of the culinary arts in Kentucky and Tennessee, readers can do their part. To support the programs, call The Salvation Army Chattanooga at 423-756-1023 or visit

https://www.facebook.com/TheSalvationArmyChattanooga/ and http://www.csarmy.org/.

or The Salvation Army Louisville at (502) 671-4900 or visit https://www.facebook.com/pg/The-Salvation-Armys-Culinary-Training-Program-167609907941/about/?ref=page_internal or http://www.salvationarmylouisville.org/

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