How Delaware North builds career paths from hourly cook to salaried sous chef

The global foodservice operator's culinary development program, Culinary & Hospitality Excellence for Future Success (CHEFS), offers a yearlong curriculum for rising chefs and the executive chefs helping them climb the back-of-the-house ladder.
Chefs in the kitchen
Photo courtesy of Delaware North

Global foodservice operator Delaware North has a new program that pairs up-and-coming culinarians with mentors to build a better future career. And it’s already been helping hourly cooks move up to become salaried sous chefs. CHEFS, or Culinary Hospitality Excellence for Future Success, takes the mentor-mentee model into the kitchen with in-house culinary training through 12 months of coursework, leading up to ProChef I or II designations.

Buffalo, New York-based Delaware North is offering this program to employees working at all of their operating divisions, including Parks and Resorts, Gaming, Sportservice, Travel and Delaware North’s restaurant group subsidiary, Patina Restaurant Group. There are 50 emerging culinarians and 33 executive chef members currently in the program, all hand-selected and paired strategically.

As a person who participated in the program, Chef Michael Butler says he’s been impressed by Delaware North’s commitment to its chefs. He’s now sous chef at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  “I feel like the chef culture in this company is really important, and food is one of the top priorities,” Butler says.

The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) supports the program as well, which not only adds resources, but also a layer of prestige, as the CIA is widely recognized as the world’s premier culinary college, with more than 50,000 alumni over its more than seven decades.

Chef Lou Piuggi

Chef Lou Piuggi, Delaware North's VP of Culinary, Food & Beverage has been seeing lots of success stories with the CHEFS program.

Train the trainer

Executive chefs participating in the CHEFS program get immersive training at the CIA to earn mentor certifications. This certification is unique, as it equips them to really bring out the best of emerging talent—culinarians, cooks and sous chefs—who’ve been nominated based on their potential for long-term careers with Delaware North.

The mentors then take their mentees through the 12-month collaborative journey of professional development. The group focuses on all aspects of being a chef, from the actual professional development to technical skills and leadership capabilities.

Much more than just a cook-off

Delaware North’s Culinary & Hospitality Challenges, three-day events that happen twice a year, also contribute to growth of food and beverage leaders throughout the company. Participants in the CHEFS program actively contribute to company events, like the Partner Summit with PepsiCo, the PGA of America and more. They recently competed in the latest challenge, where the event centered around creating new quick-serve restaurant concepts.

Networking opportunities are first and foremost in the challenges, which bring together chefs, beverage leaders, judges and partners from every division within the company. The challenges are in person, but the planning starts off virtually with teams collaborating before the events.

“The Culinary & Hospitality Challenge isn’t just an exercise,” said Delaware North Executive VP and COO Amy Latimer in a video featuring several chefs talking about the benefits of the challenges. “The purpose for doing this is to bring people together and to spark amazing ideas that we actually take out into the field and utilize.”



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