People in Foodservice

Kory Samuels

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Kory Samuels

Top accomplishment this year:
Receiving the Rochester Institute of Technology’s President Award for Staff Excellence, along with a few other RIT personnel.

What would you say you excel at over more seasoned employees?
I pride myself in being versatile in any aspect of the foodservice business by being a student of the business. I try my best to be a “Swiss army knife,” whether it be strategic planning, foodservice design, technology, hands-on-operations experience or finance. It helps me to be a stronger resource for staff members, customers, colleagues and direct supervision.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome?
Growing up in the foodservice industry with high expectations. With each supervisor position I have obtained, I faced a different set of circumstances. I had to grow and mature quickly. I’m grateful for all the days—challenging days as much as the successful ones—as it has broadened my life and professional perspective. I understand the expectations that I face as a young professional in a leadership role are significant, and that understanding has helped me help others, regardless of our differences.

What's the one thing you wish you could change about the industry?
Our industry breeds creativity and it is constantly evolving as food becomes more diverse and customer expectations continue to rise. One thing I wish would change is for the industry to highlight the depth that exists in the noncommercial market. We have many talented, hardworking individuals with experience and offerings that are well beyond what the average person would think. 

Deck: 

Executive Director of Dining Services
Rochester Institute of Technology
Rochester, N.Y.
Age 32

Year: 
2017
Page Order: 
20
Type: 
Rank

Alyse Festenstein

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Alyse Festenstein

Top accomplishment this year:
Increasing the share of food purchases that qualify as local or sustainable by 15%.

What’s the best career advice you’ve been given?
After the first few months in my new role, Bon Appetit’s director of communications reminded me to keep fighting for what I believe. It’s helped me stay grounded and not get so easily swept up in the everyday challenges and minutiae.

What do you value most in a workplace?
I value the willingness to try something new, and maybe even fail. I am encouraged by upper management and my coworkers to constantly re-examine the way we are doing things and pursue opportunities for innovation.

What keeps you up at night?
I find that a lot of people think buying local is solely a function of price. Currently we’re on the lookout for a year-round source of a handful of local agricultural products—from turkey to bulk cheeses; however, the supply doesn’t exist yet in Georgia. As a large buyer, we have the power to support the growth of these new industries. Sometimes, I find myself daydreaming about supply chain logistics.

Deck: 

Sourcing Coordinator
Bon Appetit at Emory University
Atlanta
Age 26

Year: 
2017
Page Order: 
19
Type: 
Rank

Cameron Thompson

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Cameron Thompson

Top accomplishment this year:
Moving up to executive chef and operating the first hydroponic farm at a Southeastern university.

What would you say you excel at over more seasoned employees?
Making trends profitable and understanding the younger consumer market. I’m also not afraid to jump in the fire with my crew if we’re super busy or short on staff. I won’t hide in my office—we are a team, and I lead by example.

What’s been your funniest on-the-job disaster?
During a catering event, we tried out marble slabs on an action station. The Sterno flame was too hot for the slab, and it cracked right there on the spot. That day I learned just how efficient, organized and fast my team could move in a disaster.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome?
I’m extremely passionate about my menus and food. In leadership roles, I’ve had to learn to trust others to deliver quality. I’m learning to step back and let others create in their own way.

Deck: 

Executive Chef, Catering and Retail Distribution
PantherDining Catering, Georgia State University
Atlanta
Age 26

Year: 
2017
Page Order: 
18
Type: 
Rank

Holly Thaw

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Holly Thaw

Top accomplishment this year:
Collaborating with other school districts to efficiently accomplish common goals, improve program quality and perception, and achieve cost-saving results for our individual programs.

What would you say you excel at over more seasoned employees?
I work hard to listen, even to what people are not saying. I find this to be especially helpful when relating to colleagues that are both older and younger than me. My ability to perceive their frustrations or challenges before they tell me allows me to get ahead of potential problems.

What experience have you learned an important lesson from?
I learn important lessons from students each day, and I take time away from my office to engage with them. I equally value their extremely honest feedback and their lessons on the latest trending dance moves. As a 30-something, I realize that I have more work to do to remain relevant with our target audience than when I first started working.

Why do you think the noncommercial market is viewed as a less attractive career path than the restaurant business?
I think people tend to view the noncommercial market in a similar way that they view an off-brand product compared to a brand-name product. At first glance, the commercial market is more attractive, comfortable and exciting. In reality, there are many similarities between the two, and even some rewarding advantages of the “off-brand.”

Deck: 

School Nutrition Program Coordinator
Savannah-Chatham County Public School System
Savannah, Ga.
Age 31

Year: 
2017
Page Order: 
17
Type: 
Rank

Kate Dienst

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Kate Dienst

Top accomplishment this year:
Working with our team to revamp all our menus to reflect a focus on fresh and local items, resulting in students selecting almost 1.5 million entree salads for lunch last year.

What would you say you excel at over more seasoned employees?
I am pretty resilient when it comes to change. I’ve been in the school foodservice industry for more than six years and have seen so many regulatory changes. I’ve learned to quickly figure out what we need to do to make our menus meet these new regulations but still taste great to appeal to students.

What keeps you up at night?
Product changes! Last school year seemed to be the year of the recall. Every time we turned around, we would receive notification of another food item being recalled. It really gets hard to keep track of your menus when you have to make last-minute changes—and finding enough product to substitute for more than 150 schools is no easy task.

What do you value most in a workplace? Are there any ways your workplace delivers on that?
It is important to be able to laugh. Foodservice can be so stressful at times with so many moving parts. I really value working with people who are happy and can take a step back and laugh sometimes. Chartwells will occasionally host activities like field days, where we go out and compete in water balloon tosses, hula hooping, musical chairs and other activities that create lots of laughs.

Deck: 

Senior Resident Dietitian
Chartwells K-12 at Duval County Public Schools
Jacksonville, Fla.
Age 32

Year: 
2017
Page Order: 
16
Type: 
Rank

Amanda Gass

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Amanda Gass

Top accomplishment this year:
Promoted from assistant manager to manager to training manager, and helped to nearly double adult meal participation and increase student participation by 6%.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome?
Stepping into a management position in a kitchen that lost both the manager and assistant manager, and where the relationship between the kitchen staff and rest of the school faculty was damaged. I was faced with the challenge of repairing that relationship and reinforcing the integrity of this organization while improving food quality and cutting back on waste.

What experience have you learned an important lesson from?
When I was a young girl, my mother worked as a cafeteria manager at my school. Every morning I would sit in her office, eat my cereal, and read a poem on her desk that spoke of the power in a smile and how “No one needs a smile quite as much as he who has none to give.” This poem, along with the real-life example my mother set for me, truly impacted the person I have become.

We are the only people in the entire school that see every child every day. This means that we have a tremendous opportunity to impact the children in our schools. We never know what kind of struggles our students are facing at home or academically, but we do know the power of kindness.

How do you think the industry will change in the next five years? How do you think that will impact your goals and career?
I feel like the industry will introduce more gourmet foods to their menus, and I feel the public will be introduced to outstanding foodservice operations, thus challenging others to improve. This change will challenge me to continue to improve on my own skills and leadership.

Deck: 

Training Manager
Greenville County Food and Nutrition Services
Greenville, S.C.
Age 34

Year: 
2017
Page Order: 
15
Type: 
Rank

Wesley Delbridge

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wesley delbridge

Top accomplishment this year:
Successfully implementing the Clean Label Initiative, removing more than 35 possibly harmful ingredients from products and recipes, and reaching more than 10,000 downloads and a 5-star rating for the school nutrition app

What would you say you excel at over more seasoned employees?
I feel that I am passionate and hyper-focused on creating a premier dining experience for all of our customers. Food is social, emotional and psychological, and I want every student in our district to feel comforted and happy when they eat with us. School lunch shouldn’t be chaotic and rushed. It should be enjoyed, looked forward to and remembered well.

What experience have you learned an important lesson from?
I think it is important as a leader to surround yourself with people who have different strengths than you, and sometimes different views. This will challenge you to get outside of your comfort zone.

Why do you think the noncommercial market is viewed as a less-attractive career path than the restaurant business?
Because I think it is generally viewed as a “boring” part of the industry. I completely disagree, and think this area of foodservice has the most room for growth, change and innovation. Our programs not only are ripe for new and fresh ideas, but with success we can also improve the health of our children.

Deck: 

Director of Food & Nutrition
Chandler Unified School District
Mesa, Ariz.
Age 35

Year: 
2017
Page Order: 
14
Type: 
Rank

Brittany Jones

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Brittany Jones

Top accomplishment this year:
Adapting my grandfather’s recipe for sweet potato pie, which received many compliments, as a holiday dessert across the district.

What would you say you excel at over more seasoned employees?
I excel at interacting with our students and keeping them engaged. I am very energetic during food demonstrations and classes, so I’m usually the chef called to handle the kid-driven events.

What is your favorite kitchen hack?
Everyone knows that it’s hard to get kids to eat their vegetables, so my kitchen hacks are usually based on incorporating or hiding vegetables. For example, I made a great chocolate chip cookie that utilizes zucchini.

What experience have you learned an important lesson from?
You don’t know how to prep and conduct a food demo until you have completed one. The first demo I did was awful. Now that I conduct them on a regular basis, I realize that your demo rarely goes as you planned. I prep for at least two different scenarios, because you never know what will happen.

Deck: 

Chef Trainer, Nutrition Services
Houston Independent School District
Houston
Age 28

Year: 
2017
Page Order: 
13
Type: 
Rank

Samantha Herod

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Samantha Herod

Top accomplishment this year:
Being part of the implementation of our new food truck program, from the initial planning to the actual implementation.

What would you like to accomplish in your career in the short term?
Expanding our menu to incorporate more multicultural menu items is my immediate goal. Also, keeping up my perfect driving record.

What experience have you learned an important lesson from?
Always overprepare, because having too much food is always better than not enough. One time we had to turn someone away from the food truck because we were out of food, and drove home the importance of this lesson.

What do you value most in a workplace? Are there any ways your workplace delivers on that?
Openness and clear communication are key. Our director is great at sending out weekly updates and newsletters that keep us all informed about current plans. Our district also uses a photo-sharing app to help all the managers share what's going on, as well as sharing creative ideas and strategies.

Deck: 

Food Truck Manager
Austin Independent School District
Austin, Texas
Age 28

Year: 
2017
Page Order: 
12
Type: 
Rank

Joshua Iufer

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Joshua Iufer

Top accomplishment this year:
Getting published by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and guiding dietetic interns with experience as a registered dietitian. 

What would you say you excel at over more seasoned employees?
I’ve been building computers since I was 13 years old, and I spent three years working for IT in college. My proficiency with technology goes beyond even the norm for my generation; in my career, this means I have a better understanding of how technology will integrate with existing systems and am able to articulate specific needs to software developers.

What would you like to accomplish in your career in the short term?
In healthcare, it’s really tough to prove the value of technology unless it’s been demonstrated large-scale somewhere else. I’m at the point where my ideas for integrating technology with the customer experience have been successful at a midlevel facility, and I’m eager to work on adapting it to much larger hospitals.

What would you like to accomplish in the long term?
I would love to see services like Gmail, Slack and Dropbox become commonplace in the foodservice and healthcare industries, like they are at the tech giants surrounding us in the Bay Area. Small improvements in communication can lead to huge differences in productivity, and these services are more than capable of handling privacy concerns.

Deck: 

Director of Food and Nutrition
Morrison Healthcare at Sutter
Alta Bates Summit Medical Center: Herrick Campus
Berkeley, Calif.
Age 27

Year: 
2017
Page Order: 
11
Type: 
Rank

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