Pursuing the Culinary Arts at ASUN

Brittney Osborn


Pursuing the Culinary Arts at ASUN

by Audrey Hanes, photography by Melissa Donner

With longtime Jonesboro chef and restauranteur Lisa Godsey now at the helm as culinary director, Arkansas State University-Newport’s culinary arts program is perfecting its curriculum to meet a growing need in Jonesboro and to prepare its graduates for a career in the restaurant industry.

Godsey, who has been a mainstay of Jonesboro’s culinary scene for more than two decades, recently discovered her passion for teaching when Arkansas State University-Newport (ASUN) asked her to teach a class for the school’s culinary arts program. She taught her first class in the fall of 2021 and officially became the director of culinary arts in January of this year.

“I first came over to teach a couple of classes after they had been asking me for several years,” said Godsey. “I did that and fell in love with the program and teaching. I didn’t realize I would love teaching that much, but I absolutely do.”

Godsey is passionate about growing the program, which launched in 2013 following a $1 million donation from the Fowler family that funded the 12,000-square-foot facility. Since then, 120 students have graduated from the program with an associate degree in culinary arts from the school’s Jonesboro campus.

“It used to be a culinary and hospitality degree, but we took out the hospitality part of it; we saw that’s where the need was for this community,” said Godsey. “By the time students leave here, they will have knowledge of and have touched on all aspects of culinary arts and how to open and run a restaurant or whatever they want to do.

“A culinary arts degree can go in so many directions. If you want to go into nutrition, run dining operations in a hospital or become a nutritional coach for athletes, it’s always a good launching pad to have a culinary arts degree.”

The two-year program includes a variety of classes, including Culinary 1 through 4, baking, banquet and catering, international cuisine, nutrition, costing and purchasing, menu planning, food preservation, beverage management and more.

“One of our newer classes, fabrication class, teaches them how to break down whole animals and large cuts of meat and then turn around and utilize them,” said Godsey. “One thing we try to teach here is sustainability – waste not, want not – where all scraps are put in compost or turned around and used in something else. We teach them that we can always use what they don’t need in something else, whether it’s to make a stock or render the fat down with beef or pork.”

One recent ASUN culinary arts graduate says the program helped him attain his childhood dream of wearing a chef’s hat.

“Every day was a new experience in itself,” said Taha Ali Khan, who graduated from ASUN’s culinary arts program in 2022 and is now a general manager and restaurant operator of both Checker’s and Rally’s locations in Jonesboro. “Chef Lisa Godsey is a treasure box full of knowledge, dedication and experience. I feel lucky to receive training under her guardianship.

“I started my job as a grill person just around the same time I started the course. By the end of the course, I was working as the general manager of that same restaurant.”

Godsey is working to make sure the program not only prepares students for the culinary side of things, but each and every aspect of running a restaurant, as well, from ordering food and running the front of house to menu planning and understanding dietary restrictions.

“The culinary arts program touches on every single aspect of being able to go in and have knowledge of everything that happens inside of a restaurant,” she said. “There’s just such a need for it. We are growing by leaps and bounds here in Jonesboro, so of course people are going to want to eat. Whether they start their own restaurant or work for someone else, they’ll leave our program with that knowledge.”

There are six students enrolled in the school, which can accommodate up to 12 at one time. Before they graduate, each student will be placed with an area restaurant for a 120-hour internship; current placements include Omar’s Uptown, The Social and The Rec Room.

“It’s not a big program, but we really want the students to come in and be able to have the room they need,” said Godsey, who hopes to soon have ASUN’s culinary arts program accredited with the American Culinary Federation. “The need I see now is for students to be trained to be able to go and work anywhere as far as the restaurant business, that includes catering, hotels or any of the hospital kitchens that are around here.

“One thing I tell my students is that even though you graduate with your degree, your learning never stops. I’ve been doing it for 20-plus years, and I never stop learning. This applies to really any profession – if you stop learning, you become stagnant – the technology will pass you by.”

Godsey takes that motto seriously. She recently graduated with her own associate degree from ASUN.

“This is not home ec; this is real world experience,” she said. “I enjoy being able to take what it is that I have learned and teach it to others. I just now got my associate degree from here, but for the most part, I’m self-taught. I don’t recommend that, but at the same time, it gave me the opportunity to learn what I needed to learn the hard way.

“It means so much to me to be able to pass on what I’ve learned and am still learning to these students as they can take up where I’ve left off so they can continue to build up Jonesboro or wherever they end up. I’ve opened up five restaurants. I now have the opportunity to train young students to do what I’ve been doing for 20 years. It’s great when you see that light go on over their head, especially when you get students in here who are really passionate about it.”

Godsey hopes to pass that passion on to her students and encourages those who are interested to give the program a chance.

“This is my passion; this is what I enjoy doing because I can take everything I’ve learned and pass it on to others,” said Godsey. “I started (teaching) when I was 55 years old, so it’s never too late to switch up in life as far as what you want to do. I thought I’d be running restaurants the rest of my life, then here came this opportunity to teach. This is a totally different ballgame, and I love it.

“I would encourage anyone who is interested in it to give it a try; this is not like a (cooking) class, this is true going to school and learning a job skill. It’s all about the learning. We want people who want to understand the business and want to move further in it.”

For more information about Arkansas State University-Newport’s culinary arts program, visit asun.edu/programs/culinary or call (870) 680-8733.



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