Culinary Arts program renamed after alumnus


Ellen McDonald, Managing Editor

On Friday, Feb. 5, the Culinary Arts Management Program at the University of North Alabama was officially named for Jeff Eubanks.

This honor was a dual effort by not only the Marriott Shoals Hotel and Spa, where Eubanks was the executive chef, but also by his fraternity, Phi Gamma Delta.

Eubanks graduated from UNA in 1996 and passed away in early Feb. 2020. 

While at UNA, Eubanks played third baseman for the Lions baseball team and majored in economics and finance. He also served as president for his fraternity.

“The renaming of the culinary school after Jeff is such an amazing gift to honor him, but moreover, it is also a gift to his family and friends so that we will be constantly reminded of the generous person he was in life,” said Michael Anthony, a fellow member of the fraternity. “He showed love through his cuisine.”

Eubanks was more than just a UNA alumnus; he was a positive light within the Culinary Arts Management Program years after graduating. 

“They [the University] decided to rename the program after him because he was so involved on campus,” said Maeve Eubanks, the eldest daughter of Jeff. “He would take culinary students and he would mentor them, and he would give them internships.” 

Through internships with Marriott, students were able to learn to prepare menus, cook within a variety of cuisines and were given guidance on what to do and what not to do.

Through this opportunity, Eubanks selflessly brought out the best of students’ abilities in an environment that fostered a love for the craft. 

Knowing so many of his interns had such wonderful potential, he never gave up on those he had taken under his wing.  

His daughter explained that Eubanks was extremely active within the UNA community.

“He was in Fiji, SGA and I think he was in LaGrange too,” said his daughter. “He and my mom both did everything for UNA when they could.”

After his passing, the University quickly began the process of renaming the program.

“We have to have their [The Board of Trustees] approval anytime we rename any entity on campus,” said the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Sara Lynn Baird. “They appreciated not only the donation that will help support the program; but also, the memory of Jeff Eubanks, who has been not only an alumnus of the University, but a real friend to the culinary program and a mentor to many of the students in the program.”

Baird added that the board was thrilled to be able to honor his memory. 

“In such a short life he made such an incredible impact,” said Anthony. “Through my eyes, hands down his best legacy, are his beautiful, intelligent, independent, daughters Maeve and Alley. I understand they are only part Jeff (and part Michelle) but from what I have seen, they got the best parts of Jeff, and that is a legacy worth far more than any child could ask for.”

Eubanks’ daughter explained that many people would assume that a chef would not make an impact within a community. Conversely, her father did make an impact and so much more.

“I am so proud of him for it,” said his daughter. “It’s such a big deal that his name will live on within an entire program. I think he’d feel a bit embarrassed and be like, ‘Oh my gosh, my name is everywhere!’ But I think it’s exactly the type of thing he deserves after everything he’s done not only for UNA, but for the entire Shoals area.”

There was no one who crossed paths with Eubanks who did not feel the love and compassion he bore for the culinary arts and for the Shoals community. 

“He was talented, not only as a chef, but also as someone who could help foster and develop others who found a passion for the culinary arts,” said Blakely Williams, a fellow fraternity brother of Eubanks. “His love and passion for what he was doing came through in the food he prepared and the people who worked alongside him.”

Williams added that he was unaware of how many people Eubanks had in some way touched until his visitation and funeral.

“So many of his past coworkers showed up as a testament to how his gentle demeanor had such positive effects on those around him,” said Williams. “This program being named for someone who so embodied what I came to see as the culinary arts in Florence is just a perfect monument to his memory in my mind.”

Beyond the renaming of the program, more changes are happening within the Culinary Arts department. 

“Our Culinary Arts Program is the only four-year degree program in the state,” said Baird. “Also, just the culture of The Shoals adds a uniqueness for all of our programs; but culinary can really take advantage of that by capitalizing off a wide variety of cuisines.”

“We are very hopeful that the program will grow,” said Baird. “Right now, there are around 60 majors.”

The degree program itself was launched by UNA in 2018 and is fairly new. Before this, the program was a concentration in a degree that was housed in the College of Education and Human Sciences, explained Baird.

“Due to a relatively recent move to a new academic college, school, and department; some curricular changes and improvements; and an increasing emphasis on workforce development, I am pleased to report that Culinary Arts Management is thriving at UNA,” said Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, Ross Alexander in a University press release from Feb. 5. “The myriad gifts that facilitated this naming today will have a direct impact on the program, its students, and numerous Shoals-based hospitality employers.”

Baird explained that through the new degree program students can solely focus on culinary arts. 

The University is looking into the possibility of adding a certificate program in the hopes of attracting prospective students who have already entered the workforce. This would allow these students to increase their education levels, added Baird. 

Baird said that a culinary program will be added to the Workforce Development Center that will be built over the next year or two. It will be part of the Agricultural Center.

Through the renaming of the Culinary Arts Management Program in honor of Jeff Eubanks, he will forever be afforded the opportunity to better the UNA community for generations to come.