Staff Spotlight: The Accidental Chef – Case Western’s Dick Thompson

Dick Thompson, Chef/Manager of the Tinkham Veale University Center at Case Western Reserve University

When asked how he ended up in cooking, Bon Appétit Management Company Chef/Manager Dick Thompson answers, “Life happened.”

Unlike many of his peers, Dick never went to culinary school. He started out as a dishwasher at  a certain fast-casual restaurant named for a Rolling Stones song and eventually worked his way up to become a manager at Melt, an Ohio grilled-cheese franchise. He attributes his success to an ability to anticipate what people need. “It’s simple, yet difficult,” Dick explains. “In the kitchen there is always something to do,” which means there is always an opportunity to step in, help out, and take on a new challenge. That’s how he learned to cook, and what eventually brought him into the Bon Appétit family when our team at Case Western Reserve University hired him as a supervisor for the new Melt franchise in the Tinkham Veale University Center (TVUC).

In just over three years, Dick has gone from supervisor at Melt to chef/manager of the entire TVUC, which has five concepts. Although Dick already feels like he’s at the “highest point of his career” thus far, he can see himself staying with Bon Appétit and maybe moving between locations at Case.

“I’m really focused on learning and pushing myself, and the most I’ve learned has been here, at Bon Appétit,” Dick says. “Every day I learn something new.”

Much of that knowledge has come from his mentor, Executive Chef Tony Smoody, who has been with Bon Appétit for more than 15 years and currently oversees Case Western’s upscale public restaurant, Michelson & Morley. “It makes all the difference to work alongside a role model who you really respect, and for me that’s Tony,” says Dick.

When asked the classic question, “What’s your favorite thing to cook?” Dick has an unusual answer: “I’m a huge fan of soups. At TVUC we always have two from-scratch soups of the day, and I love the variety. Trying all these new soups has been one of my turning points as a chef.”