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KNOXVILLE — Melanie Deaderick spent much of her career working in various kinds of science laboratories.

But after leaving that work and spending several years caring for aging parents, she was ready for a change.

“I wanted to use the other part of my brain,” she said. “I wanted to do something for me.”

After watching a chefs’ cook-off at the Market Square Farmer’s Market, she decided that cooking was her new recipe for life.

Deaderick is one of 19 students who will graduate tonight from the Culinary Institute at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. This is the institute’s sixth graduating class.

The graduation — which consists of the students cooking a gourmet dinner for 150 invited guests — will be held at 7 p.m. at the UT Visitors Center near the corner of Neyland Drive and Kingston Pike.

“This is no ordinary graduation, because the students have to prepare their ‘final exam,'” 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 19 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 provides students with professional culinary instruction. Appealing to both food service professionals and epicureans like Deaderick, 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.

Deaderick said attending the Culinary Institute has changed the way she looks at restaurants, at grocery stores and at food. She’s started up an Ethnic Restaurant Adventures group that tries out a new restaurant every month and she’s joined the “slow food movement,” a group dedicated to counteracting fast food and fast life.

“I want to become a better baker, a food teacher, a food writer,” she said.

Here are the students graduating from the Culinary Institute tonight:

  • David Bird, Knoxville
  • Cody Boring, Maryville
  • Thomas Brackin, hometown not listed
  • Robert E. Cook, Farragut
  • Melanie Deaderick, Knoxville
  • Kyle Korn, Vonore
  • Megan Lochridge, Knoxville
  • Melinda Moore, Knoxville
  • Robert Morgan, Knoxville
  • Amie Phillips, Caryville
  • Paul J. Predhomme, Oak Ridge
  • Justin Reese, Knoxville
  • Lindsey Reynolds, Powell
  • Robert E. Robinson, Knoxville
  • Drew Rout, Knoxville
  • Jenna Smith, Franklin, N.C.
  • Daniel Thomason, Knoxville
  • Robert B. Thompson, Knoxville
  • Shannon F. Welch, Knoxville

C O N T A C T :

Amy Blakely (865-974-5034,