Southwest Tennessee Community College

May 3, 2006

For more information, contact: Kimberly Kreider (901) 333-4023

Follow the Mentor…


Southwest’s Chef Steven Leake was acclaimed by his peers during the American Culinary Federation (ACF) Memphis Chapter Presidential Awards Gala in April as Chef of the Year for 2005. Culinary Arts Program director at Southwest since 2002, Chef Leake previously won the ACF title in 1995 and 2002. Over the past three years, he has also won “Best Dish” by vote of guests who sample all the offerings at the ACF’s major annual fundraiser, the Great Chef’s Tasting Party for United Cerebral Palsy.

At the same event, Southwest Hospitality student Andrew Akridge received the Junior Culinary Award in recognition of his leadership and high participation in ACF activities. He is one of about 25 students of the program who participate with Chef Leake in ACF activities, including three major charitable fund-raisers the association sponsors each year.

“Our students are very important to the success of the fund-raisers,” said Chef Leake. Each event takes many hours of preparation before, during and after the event. “They participate at every level, from planning and pre-prep here at the College, to packaging, transporting and setting up at the event site, right down to the final details of finishing and presenting – followed by the final breakdown to return equipment to campus.”

Competition at the ACF’s Great Chef’s Tasting Party includes the presentation booth. “An elegantly designed and executed booth contributes greatly to the presentation of the dish in this competition,” said Chef Leake; “A proper setting for a jewel, so to speak.” Department chair Jeremy Burnett heads up this part of the competition and “consistent first- or second-place wins the past five years witness to his finesse,” according to Chef Leake. Students work closely with Burnett on the booth. “Presentation skills are integral to their achieving chef status – which is their goal, and my goal for them – as they complete their program here at Southwest and go on to higher levels of education and experience,” said Chef Leake. Southwest offers the only certified culinary school in this area, according to Chef Leake.

Southwest also participates in the two other ACF fund-raisers, supporting the Child Advocacy Center for sexually abused children and, new this year, the Madonna Learning Center for developmentally delayed children. “These two are not competitions; simply fund-raisers and a means to bring together – and attract new – supporters of the organizations in a pleasant, congenial social setting. All of them are community service projects of the ACF,” said Chef Leake. For the Madonna Learning Center tasting in February, Chef Leake was point person, working with several other chefs with their primary support the Southwest culinary students. The fund-raisers are essentially free for the organizations served. “About 95 percent of the food ingredients are donated by vendors and the labor – us – is all free,” according to Chef Leake. He and the students worked for two days ahead of the event on pre-prep and 15 to 18 hours on the day, including setup, cooking, and serving, then breaking down equipment and supplies and returning them to the school.

Akridge, a freshman, plans to complete his degree in Hospitality with a concentration in Culinary Arts, then go on to more advanced cooking schools. His ultimate goal is to become a chef “good enough to work in my choice of top restaurants.” Chef Leake is looking forward to the day when Akridge – or any of his students – challenge him for best dish and Chef of the Year. “After all, that’s what I’m working for, to help them become the best!”