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Grinnell native finds passion in Culinary program

Culinary Relish Ashley Eakins

Iowa Valley Grinnell Culinary Apprentice, Ashley Eakins, prepares chicken Marsala at Relish in Grinnell.

Finding your passion is one thing—actually having the opportunity to pursue it is another. But that’s exactly what Iowa Valley Grinnell student Ashley Eakins is doing. Last fall, Ashley enrolled in Iowa Valley Grinnell’s new Culinary Apprenticeship program and her life hasn’t been the same since.

“I just saw an ad in the newspaper about the new culinary program and thought I’d give it a shot,” says Ashley. “I’ve always loved food. My uncle is a chef; I just loved how he could create amazing dishes out of nothing it seemed like.”

Born and raised in Grinnell, Ashley says growing up, her mom would let her and her siblings “help” in the kitchen. “Dad would ask questions like, ‘what would go good with this?’ Sort of testing our palette.”

She says her favorite class so far is ‘Basic Food Prep’, because students are actually in the kitchen every day cooking. Classes take place on Mondays at the Grinnell College catering kitchen and the Iowa Valley Grinnell campus. This Associate of Applied Science degree includes courses such as menu planning, beverage control, food cost accounting, and various food preparations and baking.

Classroom and laboratory time is paired with paid work over three years. Students have been busy with apprenticeships since last fall. Eakins says she has enjoyed her experience so far as an apprentice for Relish.

“I would not change where I was placed. I love it here. We are all local, fresh produce from Iowa. We also compost leftovers, so nothing goes to waste here. It really is like a family here. We actually sit down together every night for a staff (family) dinner.”

Other Apprenticeship sites include: The Tremont on Main, Saint Francis Manor, Legends, and others.

“What strikes me most about Ashley is her curiosity. She really wants to learn. That’s what I enjoy the most,” says Kamal Hammouda, head chef at Relish in Grinnell. Hammouda has been training staff for 22 years. “I can’t stand those who want to be spoon-fed everything. She’s always looking over my shoulder and constantly trying to be better. That’s what a teacher wants in a student.”

When asked about what she loves most about the culinary program at Iowa Valley Grinnell, Ashley had a simple answer. “Just learning. I feel like I know so much more than when I started. And I still have two more years to go.”

Ashley says she still isn’t quite sure what she’ll do after she graduates. “There are a lot of possibilities. I could be a personal chef, for example. I want to travel to different regions of the country so I can taste the different foods. I want to be able to tell the difference between something created in the Atlantic and something made in the Pacific.”

Apprenticeships are available in both Marshalltown and Grinnell. If you’re interested in joining the program, contact Brenda Kremer at 641-236-0513 or

The College is also still accepting Apprenticeship sites in the District. If you’re interested in being an apprenticeship site, contact MaryAnne Nickle at 641-269-2202 or

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