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KNOXVILLE — Due to the strong growth in Tennessee’s service sector, Knoxville will need an additional 200 cooks and chefs in the next five years. Now through “Your Taste of Success,” an innovative and free UT program, people living in economically distressed areas of Knoxville can learn the skills necessary to be a part of this growing industry.

John Antun, a professor in retail, hospitality and tourism management, leads the course that teaches its members about culinary arts and how to become cooks and chefs.

The free program, now in its second year, is open to people living in Knoxville’s empowerment zone, which is part of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Renewal Initiative. The urban renewal program rebuilds communities in distressed areas through incentives, grants and tax benefits. Knoxville’s empowerment zone is located in the heart of the city from northwest to southeast Knoxville east of the Interstate-40 Papermill Drive exit.

The empowerment zones are funded by HUD and part of that funding specifies money for job creation programs which made UT’s class possible for residents of the area.

“Culinary training is a marketable skill in a continually growing industry,” said Antun. “UT’s contribution to this program is adding value to the participants’ job skills, and we work them through the whole process to find a good job and help them be successful.”

The classes begin August 1, and students attend classes 12 hours per week the first month and then four hours per night, two nights per week through the remainder of the program, which ends just before Christmas.

“The classes don’t cost anything and members actually receive a small stipend to make up for any work time missed to take classes,” said Antun. “Since the classes are at night, though, most people keep their day jobs throughout the session.

“Cooks and chefs from all over Knoxville teach lessons to the class members,” he said. “We have professionals from Copper Cellar, UT, Big Fatty’s and Bistro by the Tracks, and we are adding even more teachers this year because so many people want to take part.”

Classes include food production, cooking, food service, sanitation and job skills.

Upon graduation, all students receive a professional knife kit, a set of uniforms, cook books and a sanitation text book. Antun also works to find each of the graduates jobs in local food service establishments. Last year, he graduated 28 of 30 students and had more job offers than he had students.

“We have one student who is the kitchen manager at The Foundry and one is a line cook at Cappuccinos. Our graduates are all over town,” said Antun.

Participants interested in the program must live in Knoxville’s empowerment zone and, according to Antun, no previous cooking experience is necessary. As long as you’re older than 16 and can lift up to 40 pounds, you can sign up, he said. There also is no education requirement for participants.

For more information on the program or to fill out an application, contact Antun or Donnetta Poision at 974-3732. Interested parties can also visit their office in 110 Jessie Harris Building, at the corner of 13th Street and Cumberland Avenue on UT’s campus.

John Antun, 974-3732
Beth Gladden, media relations (974-9008, 771-1284,