Executive Chef Doran Payne’s Culinary Adventure: Celebrating Bon Appétit’s Chef of the Year 2023

Chef Doran poses on a rooftop with the Chicago skyline behind him

Growing up in St. Lucia, an island country in the Lesser Antilles, Doran Payne always had a keen interest in cooking.

It was only after joining a local hotel as a culinary intern that he realized he had found a career. “I fell in love with the movement and action of the kitchen,” says Doran. After being promoted to cook within a year, he convinced his parents to allow him to move to the United Kingdom, where he enrolled in the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu London Culinary School. “In St. Lucia, we really get one shot at a career, we can’t change our minds” says Doran. “So I took on multiple internships while in school – I had to make sure this was the right path.” His internship at London’s Four Seasons allowed him to temporarily step away from school to take on a full-time job with the prestigious hotel, leading to invaluable connections, and a chance to go on a culinary adventure across the European continent.

“A chef at Four Seasons decided that he wanted to send me off to work for his friends and colleagues and told me to pack light,” Doran remembers. “I recall leaving my little apartment and putting my things in storage, not knowing where I would go next.” The journey took him to high-end restaurants across France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Germany. “At each restaurant, I didn’t know the local language, and I got my butt kicked,” laughs Doran. But the result was a crash course in classical cooking that proved to be a formative learning experience. Arriving in Paris after his escapades across the continent, Doran won a prestigious international scholarship from The James Beard Foundation – out of 800 chefs who applied – to continue his studies at the world-renowned Le Cordon Bleu Paris.

After graduating, Doran worked at Michelin-starred restaurants in Paris and London and later joined the famed Georges Perrier to open Le Mas Perrier restaurant outside of Philadelphia, PA. His journey continued across the United States to Chicago, where he re-joined Four Seasons, before serving as Executive Chef at Rhapsody, the now-defunct restaurant associated with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

It was in Chicago that Doran finally put down roots, after an eclectic and far-reaching journey. He started his own café, Prairie Bread Kitchen, which operated for 10 years before closing just prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. His longtime presence in the Chicago community allowed him to form connections with many local chefs – including Bon Appétit District Manager Kristopher Murray, Executive Chef Terrence Crandall, and Resident District Manager Caryn Struif.

When Kristopher requested a meeting with Doran about an Executive Chef opportunity with Bon Appétit at a leading technology company in the area, it piqued his interest. “When I arrived and got to understand how at Bon Appétit, there is such a massive focus on the chef and that so many leaders in the company are chefs, I knew it was a good fit,” says Doran. Since his arrival at Bon Appétit, Doran has worked closely with Terrence, Caryn and regional leaders to develop a lauded culinary program. “We have an aspiration to stand out, a relentless pursuit of perfection,” says Doran. “Our ambition is to offer guests the best food in the company.”

Executive Chef Doran Payne (right) poses with his team.

Executive Chef Doran Payne (right) poses with his team.

In Bon Appétit’s kitchens, Doran pairs his ambition with a supportive and open approach to employee development. “We create an environment in which we’re always seeking ideas from our culinarians,” remarks Doran. “I feel it’s my responsibility to lead by example and create opportunities and paths for chefs to grow.” Doran has also been instrumental in driving food waste reduction efforts through the implementation of a food recovery program with Rescuing Leftover Cuisine and reducing food waste through Waste Not 2.0, Bon Appétit’s proprietary waste tracking system. In the past year, food waste diversion at Doran’s corporate account was equivalent to saving 1.77 million gallons of water and reducing the carbon footprint by 40.2 tons of CO2 equivalent.

Doran’s success has not gone unnoticed. When Bon Appétit’s parent company, Compass Group, sought nominations for the 2023 Chef Appreciation Week Chef of the Year, Regional Vice President Mark Lachance was thrilled to nominate him as a candidate. “I am so proud of the work Doran has done since joining Bon Appétit in Chicago,” says Mark. “His steady hand and calm demeanor are such a big part of our success which has now become the gold standard for our corporate client.” Bon Appétit CEO and Co-Founder Fedele Bauccio remarked “genuine hospitality is at Doran’s core and he takes great pride in providing a positive work environment for all employees and creating an excellent experience for all our guests.”

When he was notified that he won Bon Appétit’s 2023 Chef of the Year award, Doran stayed true to his nature. “I am humbled and honored by the award, but I know there are so many great chefs within this company. I still ask, why me?”