Chris Szymanski

Chris Szymanski's patience and training expertise has made him a success at the University of Illinois.

Details

Chef/Manager, Illinois Street Residence Hall, University of Illinois Dining Services, Urbana–Champaign, IL
Age: 27
Education: AAS Culinary Arts, Roger Morris College (enrolled in New England Culinary Institute’s online B.A. culinary arts program)
Years at organization: 3

Why Selected?

According to Dawn Aubrey, associate director of housing for dining services, Chris has made an impact on foodservice by:

•Developing the Catering Family Style Concept, including menus, recipes, presentation and delivery methodology, that was presented at the Innovations Fair in February 2013

•Being instrumental in implementing changes in catering that have made that department fiscally accountable with little wasted product or other resources

•Being patient and skilled in training staff in culinary performance and customer service 

Get to know

Q. What has been your proudest accomplishment?

Professionally, I was awarded my first executive chef job at the age of 22. What I lacked in experience, I made up for with hard work, a good palate and a drive to create an amazing culinary experience for my customers. 

Q. What would you say you excel at over more seasoned colleagues?

I believe I bring an insider’s perspective on what the younger crowd wants and expects to eat. When it comes to the students we service at the dining halls, I am very in tune to what that generation grew up eating and what they are specifically looking for in their diets.

Q. What's the best career advice you've been given?

My first chef once told me, “It is what it is, and what happens, happens.” As much as you try and be in control of everything, the truth is, things go wrong. It’s how you respond in the moment of crisis that determines what kind of leader you are.

Q. What's been the biggest challenge you've had to overcome?

I think my age is definitely my biggest challenge. Sometimes people look at me and wonder how I could be in charge of a kitchen with a large staff. The truth is, I have worked extremely hard to earn my title as chef. I constantly strive to educate myself, learn from my mistakes and be honest with myself and others about what I need to do in order to become better. I have earned my place in the kitchen by taking responsibility for what happens there and not becoming complacent with the results. I think one’s drive to progress means much more than how long they’ve been around the kitchen.
 

Q. What's been your most rewarding moment?

For me, the simple things have always been the most rewarding. When I’ve created a meal or dish that makes someone’s day, it helps remind me why I began cooking in the first place.
 

Q. What would you like to accomplish in your career in the next two years?

Finishing up my bachelor’s degree is one goal.
 

Q. What's been your funniest on-the-job disaster?

During my first job as a line cook, right before I started culinary school, I cut the tip of my thumb off trying to quickly chiffonade basil like my chef could. I definitely learned from that mistake. It really hurt at the time, but I think it’s kind of funny now.
 

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