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Chefs who make a difference

These 10 chefs are influential not only in their operations but their communities as well.

We asked operators to nominate chefs who are making a difference both inside and outside of their operations to be recognized. Here are 10 chefs who are influencing the non-commercial industry and the communities in which they work. 

Eric Cartwright
Executive Chef
Campus Dining Services
University of Missouri, Columbia

Why Eric?
According to Julaine Kiehn, director of Campus Dining:

“Eric has made a tremendous impact on our department, the Mizzou campus, the surrounding community and the industry.

Within Campus Dining Services, Eric implemented culinary training for front-line hourly staff in a variety of ways. At workshops he developed training for knife skills, taste analysis, grilling and other culinary-related topics. He also developed a four-level Culinary Development Program for food preparation staff. With the demonstration of the designated skills, hourly staff members can increase their hourly pay through this program. He teaches staff members how to prepare new items by demonstrating the preparation, having staff members see and taste the product and then allowing the staff members to make the product. Similarly, Eric has worked with our sous chefs to further develop their culinary expertise and build a team that works with the hourly staff members. The outcomes of the program have been increased quality of product and an increased level of pride of our staff, along with an improved image of Campus Dining Services.

On the campus level, Eric has helped improve the image of Campus Dining Services. We are more respected for our culinary expertise, our dining program and the quality of our food. This reputation has helped us recruit and retain students, as well as increased customer satisfaction.

Eric is also involved in the surrounding community. He assists with education activities at the high school’s career center, with the city and county agencies and in the local community. Eric worked with local farmers and organizations to purchase local products, which has improved our town/gown relationships and our image in the community.

Within the industry, Eric has networked with the professionals at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone and Hyde Park. Eric coordinated campus activities with the California Raisin and Almond boards. Eric was fortunate to be in the first class of the Culinary Enrichment and Innovations Program (sponsored by Hormel at the CIA) and has provided input to industry publications and company representatives. He networks regularly with other chefs across the country and is active in the local ACF chapter.”

Richard Hoelzel, CDM
Corporate Executive Chef
Morrison Senior Living

Why Chef Richard?
According marketing department at Morrison Senior Living:

“Richard Hoelzel is a highly qualified chef with a diverse background and strong technical skills who has dedicated his career to inspiring others with his deep passion for food. In his current role as corporate executive chef for the Senior Living sector, Richard brings together the nutritional and culinary aspect of his craft. Richard truly understands that you do not have to compromise quality food offerings by making the food nutritious. Richard has developed outstanding relationships with our internal dietitians to drive our food philosophy and standards and ignite excitement in creating five-star quality dining experiences for the residents.

One of Richard’s strongest attributes is his ability to lead others. Richard has great vision and is able to communicate his vision to others and win them over with his contagious zeal for life. He inspires our chefs and managers to stretch themselves and continuously push the envelope in driving our standards and quality of service. When speaking in front of others in a training class or sales presentation, Richard has a commanding presence and captivates his audience. Richard leads by example and is very responsive to the needs of all his stakeholders. He is very committed as a servant leader and follows through on his commitments. He works tirelessly in serving our residents, managers and clients.
Richard’s passion for the training and development of others is evident in his approach to the support of our accounts. He is very hands-on and works side by side with our chefs and dietitians to ensure they understand how to execute on our brand promise. Richard possesses a strong ability to listen to the ideas and points of views of others and develop solutions to problems using different perspectives, all while leaving title and ego checked at the door.

In addition to Richard’s contribution to the Senior Living sector, he frequently reaches across sector lines to share best practices, break down silos and leverage his outstanding relationships to help everyone in the Compass family. Richard recognizes that together we are better and instills that philosophy with everything he does.”

 
 
 

Youness Jaafar
Executive Chef
Normandy Farm Estates
Blue Bell, Pa.

Why Chef Youness?
According to Marianne Jones, regional director, culinary and nutrition services, ACTS Retirement-Life Communities:

“A chef at Normandy Farms Estates for a year now after being promoted from his sous chef position, Youness brought five years’ chef de cuisine experience, having worked in some grand local restaurants. He is familiar with French, Mediterranean, Asian and American cuisine. Youness is the type of chef every manager hopes for. He intimately understands flavor profiles; trusting him with menus and production work is never a problem. He is driven to meet the department, community and company goals, and he preaches the message of our mission and creates expectations for his team.

Nothing is ever too much to ask; his answer is always, ‘If that is where you are leading, then that’s where we’re going.’ He is incredibly adaptable. Working in less than ideal conditions at times, he makes do with what he has. He manages to turn out his restaurant-style menu on a daily basis using a kitchen originally designed for institutional cooking.

He also is innovative; most recently he has created a series of ‘pop-up’ restaurants for residents, including a French bistro concept called Chateau de Vire. The menu included three appetizers—steamed mussels, lobster mac and cheese and a Bistro salad—and three entrées—Wild Mushroom Ravioli with Brussels Sprouts, Onion Confit and Marsala Cream; Veal Tenderloin with Sweet Potato and Yukon Gold Gratin, Broccoli Rabe and Maderia sauce; and Flounder En Papillote, served with farmhouse potatoes and vegetables.”

Thomas Sacksteder
Executive Chef
Gunderson healthcare
La Crosse, Wis.

Why Chef Thomas?
According to Kerry Johnson, school nutrition director for the School District of Onalaska, Wis.:

“In addition to his duties at the hospital, Chef Thomas has made numerous contributions to communities in La Crosse County. As the chef for the countywide Farm to School Program, Chef Thomas has impacted more students than I can mention. He holds student cooking classes and presentations at local elementary schools to encourage students to try new foods and consume more fruits and vegetables. This year, classes were held in West Salem, Bangor, La Crosse, Holmen and Onalaska schools, all of which have several sites and classes. His enthusiasm is contagious for staff and students alike, and he has left an impression on many to strive to eat healthier and live a better life. In addition, when the school year ended this year, students in our county went home with The Chef Thomas Bean Challenge. This is a package of beans and instructions for students to grow their own plants over the summer and come back to school in the fall with a photo, paper or any presentation about their experience. Chef Thomas is an amazing chef, community member, and mentor for children and adults in our area.”

Tom Sewell
Executive Chef, Sodexo
Florida Blue, Jacksonville

Why Chef Tom?
According to Damian Monticello, corporate hospitality services manager for Florida Blue:

“Chef Tom uses his culinary expertise to continually give back to his community through service and education. His tireless work ethic is contagious, and many of those who work alongside him have been inspired to give of themselves as well. He truly does not understand the word ‘no’ and gives freely of his time and passion any chance he can. 

For example, each year Chef Tom volunteers his time in conjunction with the Legal Affairs Department of Florida Blue for a day of service at Pine Castle (an agency that serves adults with developmental disabilities through a continuum of services tailored to address needs and lead to greater self-sufficiency, as well as increased quality of life and meaningful inclusion in the community). Chef Tom singlehandedly prepares a full barbecue lunch for over 350 people on that day. He spends the morning on the grill at Pine Castle cooking up hamburgers and hot dogs as well as interacting with all of the residents. 

In conjunction with Florida Blue, Chef Tom participated in a Fathers that Cook fundraiser aimed at encouraging and celebrating fathers that were active participants in their family’s lives. 

Chef Tom works with all of the Employee Resource Groups at Florida Blue to put together a Chef Demo series in conjunction with the various Heritage Month celebrations. The Chef Demos are an opportunity for Chef Tom to take a menu staple of a particular culture and teach people simple ways to make adjustments and prepare it in a more nutrient dense and healthy way. These Chef Demos are a huge hit and allow our customers a chance to interact with Chef Tom in a classroom-type setting and pick his brain on all things culinary.”

Daniel Skay
Nutrition Manager/Executive Chef
Parker and Castle Rock Adventist Hospitals
Castle Rock, Colo.

Why Chef Dan?
According to Lisa Poggas, nutrition and environmental services director:

“Dan proudly mentors culinary interns from Johnson & Wales University, as well as dietetic students for foodservice management throughout the country. He takes every opportunity to share his passion for creative culinary delights through cooking demonstrations to breast cancer survivors to speaking with the guests in Manna (the hospital’s) restaurant. His excitement about his specials is palpable.

On Aug. 1, Castle Rock Adventist Hospital opened in the Denver metropolitan area. When we were asked to help design the foodservice for Castle Rock, Chef Dan definitely thought outside the box. He came up with a full-service restaurant concept to help minimize equipment and labor for cost savings. Eventually, he was able to convince the executive team that this would be a win-win concept and he would make it successful.

[The hospital’s] Manna restaurant features produce from our community and kitchen garden with meats and other products from local vendors, such as honey, goat cheese and non-alcoholic Colorado wines.

Chef Dan has developed a reputation throughout the community and Centura (the organization Parker belongs to) for offering the most sublime food. When there are board meetings for Centura, we are the destination hospital due to the caliber of the food. He continually strives to produce the most creative, flavorful and healthy dishes every day for Parker and Castle Rock Adventist Hospitals.”

Julie Staples
Recipe Development Chef
University Dining
North Carolina State University

Why Julie?
According to Lisa Eberhart, R.D., dietitian for University Dining:

“Julie, 28, is a graduate of NC State with a degree in polymer and color chemistry. She leads the dining and catering operations in initiating concepts, creating recipes, enhancing current recipes, and providing input to taste, texture and packaging of food products. She also trains and develops the kitchen staff on new recipes and techniques by instructing cooks and other workers in preparation, cooking and garnishing. She is innovative in her research in food trends and recipe development. Julie, along with her fellow chefs and their staff, are constantly working to bring our dining operations new, exciting and fresh options to students, faculty, staff and corporate partners all across campus.

Julie has brought a diverse background to her job. After graduating from NC State in 2007, she moved to Italy to live and cook until going to culinary school at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., where she was valedictorian of her class. After graduation, she worked at a bed and breakfast/fine-dining restaurant on the North Fork of Long Island. Returning to Raleigh, she worked at a local country club before starting at NC State in April 2012. Not only is she busy in the kitchen, but she is busy in the classroom as well, working toward her food science degree at NC State. Outside of the kitchen and classroom, Julie enjoys gardening, reading, sailing, wine tasting and beer making with her husband.”

Jose Zuluaga
Executive Chef
St. Andrews Estates North Campus
Boca Raton, Fla.

Why Chef Jose?
According to Virginia Ohanian, director of culinary and nutrition services:

“Executive Chef Jose Zuluaga creates and supports an atmosphere graced with dignity and respect for all fellow employees, residents and guests. Our customers remain Jose’s top priority. He views each obstacle as a learning experience and passes this attitude on to his staff and those around him. Jose never allows his outside distractions to interfere with his on-the-job performance.

Jose is passionate in his career as he continuously stays abreast of current culinary trends and tailors them to exceed the expectations of our elderly population. He is the first one to come up with new ideas and recipes. His brain never stops working on what he can do to make residents’ lives more fulfilling with the power of food.

With his innovative thinking, he has created a series of unique menus for a wide spectrum of dining venues. These include a themed café, six country kitchens, a candlelight birthday celebration and a late-night dining program, just to name a few. He is very conscious of the residents’ culinary needs and strives each day to exceed their expectations. Jose responds with urgency to any request that residents may have and is always trying new recipes and different foods to tempt their palates.

Through pop-up restaurants, cooking demonstrations, special themed catered events, and even through his daily meal preparations, he splashes his work with individuality, creativity and love. Jose treats every resident and their family members with hospitality and graciousness, as if he were entertaining guests in his own home.

Jose is our rock in the culinary department. He takes ownership and pride in his work, which is something that others seek to emulate. I have never worked with a more committed chef, because he truly puts his heart and soul in everything he does. Chef Jose has set and continues to raise the bar, motivating his staff to reach new heights as well. He has truly been an inspiration here at St. Andrews. Chef Jose remains the heart and soul of our kitchen.”

 

Eli Huff
Executive Chef, Culinary Operations Coordinator
Union Public Schools
Tulsa, Okla.

Why Eli?
According to Lisa Griffin, R.D., director of child nutrition:

“Eli Huff is making a difference in 15,000 student lives. He has transformed our school meals into healthy, tasty meals that kids look forward to eating. Our participation has increased by 5% for lunch and 11% for breakfast, largely due to Eli’s great food, even when the new regulations caused other districts to decrease in participation!

Eli has developed relationships with students. They are excited when they see him in the schools and know him on a first-name basis. Many times he is seen with young students hugging his legs and getting his undivided attention. Staff have embraced Eli’s ideas and training, learned new techniques, and become engaged and proud of their newfound skills. Eli has raised our farm-to-school program to a higher level, optimizing the usage of local foods, and providing healthier, fresher choices. He has started culinary internship opportunities in our cafeterias for culinary students from nearby college programs. Most interns choose to become our employees, which raises our professional competencies.

Eli has a big heart. When the tornado left Moore, Okla., in shambles, Eli took food and supplies to the affected people. He was so touched by the devastation and needs that he came up with an idea to help the students that were affected by the tornado. He, along with three other chef friends, developed Chef Aid, a food event that brought about 40 restaurants and suppliers together to raise money by providing meals and a silent auction. The event was put together in less than three weeks, raised $70,000 in profit, and was successful because of Eli’s efforts, abilities to organize, connections with a multitude of influential people and organizations in the community and peers’ respect for him.

When Eli’s name is mentioned, the reaction is the same from everyone: ‘Wonderful!’”

Brian Axworthy
Executive Chef, Assistant Director
Colorado Springs School District 11
Colorado Springs, Colo.

Why Brian?
According to Rick Hughes, director of food and nutrition services:

“Brian is definitely a visionary. Brian has helped us take our program from a mostly highly processed food program to now exclusively scratch-cooked or clean label items. The food tastes so much better and it’s so much better nutritionally. We focus on what are we doing to help students learn in the classroom, and Brian cares greatly about that. Brian’s responsibility is that he must create recipes and menus that taste great to kids for $1.04 per meal total food costs. Those are tall marching orders.

One of the things he’s doing this year is creating a junior chef program to involve kids around the district at some level to provide input about the food being involved in the cafeteria but also learning where food comes from and how do we cook food. He’s very excited to involve students.

Another key initiative this year was, through the USDA commodity foods, to get cut up raw chicken. Going back to cooking raw chicken in schools is pretty scary but I know that we have good food safety programs. That’s another program that Brian is instrumental in pushing forward.

Brian has done culinary boot camps for our staff. There is both time in the kitchen learning culinary techniques and he’s also got some class time when he’s walking through theories and why things are done. He doesn’t just do the heavy lifting. He teaches people how to fish, so to speak.

Brian is in charge of community outreach. He partnered with the local food bank, Care and Share. We were able to serve another 50,000 or 60,000 meals this summer because Care and Share got their food from us. Brian also is in charge of our food rescue program. We experimented with that in 10 of our sites last year. We rescued food and took that to a community center, which worked with one of our local churches to box up meals to serve those from a food pantry for no charge.” 

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