Instead of going to culinary school after high school, Emily Novak ’14 decided to study biology and chemistry at Transylvania University. “I love learning. I love the education process. And having a degree was important to me.” She came here on a William T. Young Scholarship, drawn by the welcoming environment and the university’s genuine commitment to students.
Little did she know that a liberal arts education at Transylvania would give her the opportunities to make her mark on the culinary world and explore the science behind what she loves to do.
In fact, Le Cordon Bleu New Zealand has awarded her its only scholarship for a U.S. student. She’ll begin a two-year culinary program in Wellington after graduation, enjoying free tuition, a roundtrip ticket, and an experience that is sure to shape her future.
Novak credits her success in pioneering a nontraditional path to Transylvania’s supportive community that fosters students’ interests. Transylvania offers an “integrated, holistic approach for each student,” she explains. “Teachers and mentors see what you’re passionate about and push you to reach it. They connect you to people who are going to be beneficial to achieving your long-term goals.”
Video: Novak talks about her path to Le Cordon Bleu.
At Transylvania, Novak has been able to tailor her academic work to complement her culinary interests. “All of my chemistry research has revolved around food,” said Novak, including her first-year project, which focused on concentrations of food dye in children’s candy and drinks. Being part of a team that worked alongside a professor to research the maturation of bourbon led to a summer research internship on wine at the University of Auckland.
Attending conferences of the American Chemical Society provided opportunities to interact with academic researchers and industry professionals, who gave her "a taste of what you could do” in the field.
Even her part-time work experience in Lexington, made possible by a sorority sister, helped reveal that she may be an “awful” waitress, but a promising pastry chef. As she took on work left unfinished in the restaurant’s kitchen, she found something she loved doing and could do well. Eventually she was hired away by Graze Market and Café, in Winchester, Ky., to be their pastry chef. She’s been working there while finishing her senior year at Transylvania.
Novak is fascinated by how things work and the way she can meld chemistry, research, and her own creativity to produce an innovative food item. There is something about the fine line between biology and chemistry that intrigues her. “It’s where you can see the applications in real time—like enzymatic reactions—where you can see the biology at work down to the quantitative chemical reaction.”
Picturing, for a moment, a future in food design, Novak can’t help but enthuse, “Wouldn’t it be awesome to invent the next Easy Mac?”
Even with Le Cordon Bleu on the horizon, the idea of inventing the next ubiquitous staple in college dorm rooms still holds her imagination, as does a career in culinary product research and design.Sometimes, all a gifted student needs is an education that integrates the entire being.
Transylvania University admits students regardless of age, race, color, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, veteran status, national origin, or any other classification protected by federal or state law or local ordinance.