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KNOXVILLE — Florence Graves was born in India and received her undergraduate degree in economics from Bombay University. She lived in Dubai for 25 years before immigrating to Tennessee. She’s run a restaurant and a landscaping business, worked as a sous chef at Bonefish Grill and is now the executive assistant to the dean in UT’s College of Architecture and Design.

But her passion is cooking, and her dreams are to market a line of fusion sauces and launch her own restaurant chain.

Graves is one of 16 food enthusiasts — college students, retirees and working professionals in a variety of fields, including some already in the food service industry — who graduated Wednesday, Dec. 2, from the Culinary Institute at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

This is the fifth class to graduate from the institute since it started in October 2007.

“This is no ordinary graduation, because the students had to prepare their ‘final exam,’ which entailed the development and execution of the graduation meal,” said John Antun, founding director of the Culinary Institute and assistant professor of hotel, restaurant and tourism management. Antun, a certified executive chef with a doctorate in higher education administration, has spent more than 40 years in the hospitality industry and opened and operated four successful restaurants in the New York metropolitan area.

“The 16 graduating students worked on designing an elaborate culinary experience for their guests of the graduation and their instructors. This gave them the opportunity to not only prepare a fine meal, but also to show off to their friends and families,” Antun said.

The Culinary Institute at the University of Tennessee provides students with professional culinary instruction. Appealing to food service professionals and food hobbyists alike, the 10-month program offered by the Department of Retail, Hospitality and Tourism Management of the College of Education, Health and Human Sciences, covers topics including safety and sanitation, the art of tasting, knife skills and ice sculpting.

Students who complete the program receive a credentialing Certificate in Culinary Arts and the ServSafe Food Service Sanitation certification, valid for five years.

“I always had a passion for creating and experiencing different kinds of foods,” Graves said. “Coming from India and having lived in the Middle East, I felt very comfortable with Asian and Middle Eastern food. However, I wanted to learn about Western cuisine. I have an entrepreneurial bent and I thought this would be a valuable course to take if I want to have a food business of my own.”

With her new certifications, Graves has big plans.

“I have some ideas, one of which is commercializing fusion-type sauces,” she said. “My dream, however, is to own a chain of healthy multi-national fusion fast-food places!”

Graves might even get some help from her husband, Tom Graves, director of operations for the Center of Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the College of Business Administration.

Here are the newest graduates from the Culinary Institute:

  • William Bradford Arp II, Knoxville
  • Summer A. Belk, Vonore
  • Marc E. Bliss, Knoxville
  • William E. Bolton, Clinton
  • Matthew Bushnell, Maryville
  • Misty A. Dagley, Alcoa
  • Samuel William Davis, Knoxville
  • Trevor Ian Dunlap, Knoxville
  • Florence F. Graves, Knoxville
  • John S. Hill, Knoxville
  • Brandon Foster Johnson, Knoxville
  • Shannon Kupferer, Knoxville
  • Robert B. Schildt, Greeneville
  • Justin P. Solomon, Knoxville
  • Jacob Stugart, Mocksville, N.C.
  • Dustin Blair Thomas, Lenoir City

For more information about the Culinary Institute, see

C O N T A C T :

Amy Blakely (865-974-5034,