By Annie Rhoades
From fashion apparel executive to television cooking show contestant, alumnus Jim Stark (BA 78) has worn many hats throughout his career.
“I had no idea I would be where I am now,” said Stark. “But it’s been fascinating. It’s been a lot of hard work, but I’ve really enjoyed it.”
A native of Greenville, Stark graduated from Greenville Christian School in 1974 and enrolled at Ole Miss the following fall to major in communications.
A member of Kappa Alpha Order, Stark delved into his studies with a particular interest in television production courses.
After graduating in 1978, he decided the best place to pursue his interest in the television industry was Hollywood.
“I packed up right after graduation and moved to California,” said Stark. “Shortly after I got there, instead of getting into that industry, I had an opportunity to get into the fashion industry. I got a job with the GAP Corporation in their corporate offices in San Francisco and started working my way up the ladder there.”
What followed was a 35-year career in the fashion industry, beginning as an assistant buyer in 1978 with GAP to eventually becoming president of The Rays Group, an action sports apparel company in Orange County, Calif.
“You kind of are a sum of your parents’ genetics,” said Stark. “My father was a problem solver, and my mother was very creative. The industry I ended up being in – the fashion industry – really involves a creative mindset. But another big part of it is problem solving. The fashion industry is great because you wake up every day, go to work, and nothing is the same. I really enjoyed it, and it was a great opportunity for me.”
After a long and successful run, Stark retired from the fashion industry and began working with his wife, Diane, and her interior design firm, Humble Pedigree. He never could have imagined the opportunity that lie ahead of him.
“My son JD (BBA 11) really got me interested in cooking,” said Stark. “One day I saw where they were having auditions for this new television show on NBC called, Food Fighters. I just sent in an email to them, and they got back to me and said they would like to interview me. I went up to Beverly Hills and started a process that lasted almost a year from beginning to end of competing to be on this television show.”
And compete he did. Stark was chosen as one of seven competitors to be featured on the cooking show series where an everyday cook faces off against top celebrity chefs for a chance to win prize money.
“It was more of two things for me,” said Stark. “I like a challenge, and I always like to try things that I’ve never done before. Certainly this was a big challenge for me. I’m a home cook, and that’s about it. The other thing was I always knew if I did well I would win some money. I had a burning desire in my heart to help elderly seniors with their lifestyle toward the end of their life, whether it is consistent healthy food for them or in some cases better housing situations. That was a big motivation for me.”
Stark won four out of five contests cooking against celebrity chefs, claiming a $70,000 pot on the show’s Sept. 9 finale.
“I’m using the money to help Meals On Wheels and another organization that feeds the homeless called Mama’s Kitchen,” said Stark.
While Stark enjoyed his time on the show and temporarily delving into a new career, he continues to enjoy retirement and helping his wife redecorate a newly acquired home in Franklin, Tenn.
“We hope to at least spend seven to eight months out of the year in Franklin and be able to attend all of the Ole Miss football games in the future,” said Stark. “We love Oxford and spend a lot more time there. I just love the school spirit at Ole Miss and the friends I’ve made. The friendships and relationships never go away – I don’t think a lot of people can say that about their college experience.”