Western Region Teams Come Together to Learn, Cook, and Bond

Bon Appétit chefs and management teams love getting together to share news, ideas, and best practices with their colleagues at other locations. In late summer, the Bon Appétit team at Biola University in La Mirada, CA, hosted more than 60 chefs and 40 catering staff and managers. They came from as far north as San Francisco, as far south as San Diego, and as far east as Utah for the two-day conference.

University of Redlands Executive Chef Anastacio “Chito” Rodriquez works on his plant-forward dish for the culinary challenge

The first day had a packed agenda with wide-ranging topics. Regional Forager Chito Rodriguez, who is also executive chef at the University of Redlands in Redlands, CA, updated everyone on new Farm to Fork partners and more. Regional Human Resources Manager Aisha Kindig shared HR highlights and welcomed new team members. The team heard from Steve Samuelson, director of integrated safety; Theresa Chester, director of purchasing, also presented.

Senior Executive Chef Peter Alfaro and Nutrition Project Manager Kristina Todini introduced everyone to the trend-setting Performance Bowl program, which combines craveable ingredients with a wellness focus. The bowls have been a hit with robust flavors and the ability to create variety with a few simple and healthy ingredients.

This wasn’t your typical summer camp. On the second day, the phrases plant-forward flavor, presentation, seasonality, and authenticity were incorporated into the tribal chants of “Camp Catermore,” staffed by head counselors Paula Nielsen, director of corporate catering, and Jim Dodge, director of specialty culinary programs. Nicolai Tuban, one of the Regional Operations Support team chefs, drove home the importance of cultural authenticity and menu writing in his “R.A.D. Menu” presentation, while Regional Marketing Director Kari Menslage got everyone excited about the Love Food culinary promotion.

Things heated up even more when the catering managers were tasked with a quick-fire challenge: creating an appealing catering setup with only a mystery box of smallwares and a 6-foot table. Despite many missing items, the teams did great.

Grilled peach salad

Now that’s a carefully composed salad! Grilled peaches, goat cheese, and arugula.

Meanwhile, in the back of the house, the chefs were broken into teams to face their own challenge. They had to create a catered event with stations, which would be later judged on a point system in which points were actually deducted for the use of animal protein! A second challenge with mixed groups required front-of-house staff to communicate with the chefs about the food and how they would like it to be displayed. Teams were judged on flavor, seasonality, authenticity, presentation, and, of course, that plant-forward element. Both tasks brought out some brilliant ideas and flavors, from grilled zucchini roulade with poblano peppers, ricotta, and peach salsa, to coconut-millet congee and the best vegan macaroni and cheese you’ve ever tasted.

The two days were filled with fun and laughter as old friends got to reunite, new relationships were created, and important company principles were practiced and internalized.

Submitted by Toni Morbitt, Woodbury University General Manager

Western Region Chefs Conference

People from all over Bon Appétit’s Western Region — from San Francisco to San Diego and east to Utah — came for the two-day conference and learning workshop