Bentonville, Arkansas is home to Brightwater: A Center for the Study of Food, an innovative cooking school that had it's first semester in January 2017. 

I spoke to Glenn Mack, who is my father, as well as the executive director of Brightwater, to hear his thoughts. He has been working on the culinary school for the past two years, so this is a very exciting time for him.

tea, coffee, beer
Darya Mack

Overall Concept

How is Brightwater different from other cooking schools? For one thing, it is a part of Northwest Arkansas Community College, meaning it is an affordable option as opposed to many culinary schools which are for-profit.

Another key difference is Brightwater's focus on problem-solving on a large scale. Dr. Mack underlines, "The reason I got into culinary education is that it has the largest impact on our industry. By working with chef instructors who are working with the next generation, we can expose the students to the full spectrum of issues in the food system today and let them find what speaks to them the most." 

Darya Mack

"I have never felt as positive as I do right now two years into the project," Dr. Mack says, beaming. "The building is complete, the team is filling out, the students are increasing, and our vision is being realized. We wanted to change the paradigm of culinary arts education, and provide a model for strengthening the regional food system."

Darya Mack

"The way that Brightwater is unique as a culinary school is it goes beyond teaching traditional cooking and baking skills and really focuses on some of the more pressing food issues of the day, such as whole animal butchering, culinary nutrition, reduction of food waste, and food entrepreneurship," Dr. Mack expresses.

Virtual Tour

When you first walk into the building, you are greeted by a warm space and a beautiful ceiling which is actually made up of plates.

cake, coffee, tea
Darya Mack

On the back wall, there is a wonderful apple mural. Apples are a constant theme in Brightwater, and as Dr. Mack explains, "When we were trying to come up with a name for the school, we wanted something that was local and related to food. Apples were the main industry of NWA in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and we found an extinct Arkansas apple called Brightwater." 

The rooms are labeled by spices, as opposed to just traditional numbers or names.

cake, beer, tea
Darya Mack

The kitchens/classrooms have glass windows so visitors can sneak a peek into the classes.

cake, coffee
Darya Mack

Brightwater's building has an interesting mix with shiny modern architecture and furniture and a couple of vintage brick walls that were left in to give the building a comfortable, vintage feel.

tea, beer, pizza, coffee
Darya Mack

"The building in which Brightwater stands is a former Tyson chicken processing plant built in the 1950s. It would have been a lot easier to just tear down the building and start new, but the visionaries of the site really wanted to retain our heritage, as Northwest Arkansas is known for poultry production," Dr. Mack describes.

There are a series of beautiful colorful murals that make a great Instagram photo background so be sure to stop and check them out!

wine, beer
Darya Mack

Other Features

Not only is this an incredible place for people to learn how to cook and enter the culinary world, it is also a public space. Brightwater holds events all the time, including during the Bentonville Film Festival. These pictures are from a Thai food demonstration which included generous samples for all the visitors.

pizza, coffee, beer
Darya Mack
Darya Mack

You can also come by for a tour to get an inside view of the school; Brightwater loves to show visitors around.

"People can engage with us on any level and at any point. The easiest way is as a full-time student, but not everybody can do that, so we have recreational classes. We also have several volunteer opportunities and specialized workshops in advanced culinary techniques for professionals," Dr. Mack clarifies.

Just in case you aren't convinced yet, Brightwater is located at 8th Street Market, a developing food hub that will have vendors and restaurants to suit anybody's tastebuds. There is also a craft brewery that is open now and brings crowds day and night. 

Darya Mack

If you are in the Northwest Arkansas area, absolutely make a trip out to Brightwater!