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April 27, 2021


Eric Short
Senior Director of Admissions and Marketing
Sullivan University


LOUISVILLE - For the 11th year in a row, students from Sullivan University's College of Hospitality Studies Culinary Arts Program will join the staff at Churchill Downs and Levy Restaurants to help prepare meals for this week's running of the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby.

Even though the size of the massive crowds will be reduced this year due to COVID restrictions, the Churchill staff and Sullivan students will still face plenty of challenges serving crowds of 50,000 instead of 120,000.

"From the main kitchen to the private dining rooms and action stations, Sullivan students from both the Culinary Arts and Baking & Pastry Arts programs will be gaining not only real time experience, but also experiencing themselves what for many or all will be a once in a lifetime opportunity," said Chef Allen Akmon, Director of the Sullivan University Culinary Arts Program. "They will be preparing, presenting, and standing behind their work as representatives of the industry, our institution and most importantly themselves."

The smaller crowds at this week's Derby and Oaks will actually present some unique changes and challenges from a typical year.

Churchill Chef David Danielson - who serves on Sullivan's Culinary Program Advisory Board - told Chef Akmon that even though his team normally facilitates food for nearly 120,000 on a typical Derby Day, the current landscape makes serving 50,000 much more intensive than in the years past.

“Right now, on the heels of the pandemic is the most exciting and opportune time to become a chef that there ever has been in my lifetime," Chef Danielson told the Sullivan students as they recently visited Churchill Downs. "You 17 students have decided to take this opportunity to learn and grow your skills and are putting yourselves in the best position possible to seize this window of opportunity to take advantage of the current landscape. If you can’t get excited about where you are with your education and what is in front of you then I don’t know what you can get excited about”. 

Gone, at least this year, are the days of the buffets with large platters or bowls with multiple servings to feed the masses.

"This year everything must be served in individual portions with the clientele still expecting the variety and quality that is synonymous with such a world class event," Chef Akmon said. "Our students are going to be on the cutting edge of mass production and mass service aimed at safety first and individual customers rather than groups of customers all with very high expectations."

"If they have not already learned about the importance of a sense of urgency," he said, "they will be getting a crash course."

Regardless of the circumstances, the opportunity to work on Derby week events provides students invaluable experience.

"Most, if not all, will never experience this volume of production ever again and surely, they will all remember and draw from this experience as a unique tool in their own personal toolboxes," Chef Akmon said. "The most important aspect of the event is the fact that we are in the position to provide our students with this opportunity."

"While we have a long history of producing quality industry professionals, we realize that we are only as good as our most recent graduates," he said. "The passion of the faculty and the pride in their work over the years has never waned and it is because of this that we find these opportunities for our students."

Chef Danielson has directed food operations for five Olympics, 10 Kentucky Derbies, an Indy 500 and a couple of Super Bowls. But there is nothing like the Derby.

"The Kentucky Derby event is like no other globally because people gather as much to see old friends and make new friends as they do for the race itself," he said. "The social nature and the gathering around food and beverage make this event more than just a sporting event."

About Sullivan University

Sullivan University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges to award Associate, Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctoral degrees. Contact the Commission on Colleges at 1866 Southern Lane, Decatur, Georgia 30033-4097, call 404-679-4500 for questions about the accreditation of Sullivan University or visit them online at

The University offers numerous certificates, diplomas, and degrees in career-orientated programs, ranging from business, pharmacy, human resources, I.T. and cybersecurity, supply-chain management, culinary and baking and pastry arts, hospitality studies, conflict management, nursing, allied health sciences, HVAC-R, interior design, and legal studies. Sullivan University has campuses in Louisville and Lexington, an extension in Fort Knox on the U.S. Army Post and a Learning Center in Louisa. Sullivan University also has many programs available partially or wholly online. For more information, visit