Southwest’s Culinary Institute’s Chef Steven Leake awarded 2020 AACC Dale P. Parnell Distinguished Faculty distinction

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Southwest Tennessee Community College’s Culinary Arts Program Coordinator Chef Steven Leake received the American Association of Community Colleges’ Dale P. Parnell Distinguished Faculty award for his teaching excellence and commitment to student success.

Chef Steven Leake, Southwest Tennessee Community College’s Culinary Institute Program Coordinator, has received national recognition as a recipient of the of the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) 2020 Dale P. Parnell Distinguished Faculty award for his teaching excellence, exceptional leadership in transforming the reputation of the College’s culinary arts program and dedication toward ensuring the educational and career success of his students. 

Named in honor of former AACC President and CEO Dale P. Parnell, the award was established in 2018 to recognize individuals making a difference in the community college classroom. Leake is one of 58 instructors from across the nation to receive the award, each nominated in various academic disciplines by members of the AACC, the primary advocacy organization for the nation’s community colleges representing nearly 1,200 2-year, associate degree-granting institutions.

Southwest President Tracy D. Hall is proud of Leake and says the honor comes as no surprise to her. “Chef Leake is truly deserving of this honor,” President Tracy D. Hall said.  “He never fails to raise the bar in the classroom and to broaden his students’ outlook on their futures. His commitment to his craft and our students is undeniable and the college is truly proud to count him among our faculty as he helps to transform the lives of our aspiring culinary artists through his immense talent and dedication.”

Leake is a graduate of State Technical Institute at Memphis (now Southwest) where he earned an Associate of Arts and Sciences degree in hotel and restaurant management in 1988.  Southwest hired Leak in 2002 when the College’s culinary arts program was underperforming. The program was placed on academic probation due to low performance outcomes, coupled with declining enrollment and graduation rates. Leake resurrected the program in three short years and has since elevated it by implementing a rigorous curriculum aligned with community service learning, teaching specialty subjects and procuring proper kitchen and lab facilities, among other successes.  “I am very honored to be recognized for the AACC Faculty Distinction Award,” Leake said.  “My students, many of whom face insurmountable challenges, are the driving force that guides my path to improve their lives and equip them with stellar skills to enter the workforce. Their success is my reward.”

Since Leake’s arrival, the Southwest culinary arts program has developed a solid reputation for graduating skilled professionals who are highly sought after by the local employers. “What distinguishes our students are their good, basic fundamental skills and the fact that they don’t approach their work with a sense of entitlement or arrogance. I teach them to be knowledgeable and humble,” Leake said. “I have more jobs awaiting my students than I have students to fill them.”

Over the years, Leake has won numerous awards for his culinary skills and community service. Former Memphis Mayors Jim Rout and Willie Herenton presented Leake with appreciation awards in 1995 and 1996 and the Memphis Chapter of the American Culinary Federation recognized Leake’s talent and service, naming him Chef of the Year in 1995, 2002 and 2005. In 2012, the Memphis Metropolitan Hotel Lodging Association presented Leake the excellence award for his commitment to his students. He also has served as the chief culinary consultant for numerous events, from the Greater Memphis Chamber to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Southwest named him Alumnus of the Year in 2014. 

Leake is the president of the ACF Memphis Chapter and owner of Premier Ice Sculptures, a company he founded from his passion for ice carving. He is pursuing certification as an ACF Certified Culinary Educator.  In this, he teaches his students another invaluable lesson: lifelong learning and service.