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Allison Trinkle – VP of Culinary Development & Supplier Diversity at Chartwells Higher Education

Chef’s Roll recently got the chance to speak with Allison Trinkle, the VP of Culinary Development & Supplier Diversity at Chartwells Higher Education. Chartwells is a part of Compass Group, the 6th largest employer in the world, and the largest in foodservice industry. They’re also a sponsor of our “Center Stage” program to promote women in food. In this interview, Allison speaks on her experiences in the industry, as well as the role she plays in making Chartwells an amazing place to work.

We’ll be seeing Allison and many other industry friends soon at the MAPP Restaurant Reset Conference, April 24-26 in Ft. Lauderdale. Hopefully you can join us!

Tell us a little bit about your background. How did you come to be involved in the culinary industry?

After completing 2 years of college, I wasn’t finding my direction and wanted to drop out. My Mom wasn’t having it! She took me to the local library in my hometown of Bristol, TN to look through a book of careers, the job of Chef jumped off the page, but how do you become a chef? I applied to the Opryland Hotel Culinary Institute and was accepted in 1992 to the three-year apprenticeship.

Following graduation, I worked as an Executive Chef in 4 different restaurants around Nashville and in 2003 joined the culinary team at the Loews Vanderbilt Hotel. In 2006 I was transferred to Loews Annapolis Hotel and in 2008 left to pursue a different line of culinary work, contract food service as an Executive Chef at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD.

I really enjoyed contract food service but wanted a more people focused company and in 2010 joined Chartwells as the Campus Executive Chef at UMBC in Baltimore, MD. My 12 years with Chartwells has been an amazing journey of development and today I am the VP of Culinary Development and Supplier Diversity. 

How did you first get involved with Chartwells Higher Education?

As I have moved into various culinary roles, the need for career development and progression has always been important. When I started with Chartwells I was a Campus Executive Chef and made it clear to my District Manager that I wanted to be the Regional Chef for the Mid-Atlantic. At the time the job did not exist but within 8 months of my tenure the position was posted, and I was given the opportunity to apply. I was blown away when the Regional Vice President called to congratulate me and I was offered the position. It has been a fulfilling 12 years of career progression and I continue to strive to make a difference in our company each day.

What does your current role entail?

In my role I ensure our chefs have opportunities for development and training as well as advancement. Each day I have the opportunity to pay it forward, growing and advancing careers for Chartwells chefs.  Additionally, I get to help increase the number of diverse suppliers, creating these avenues for women and minority owned companies is very rewarding.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion can be a bit of an empty buzzword in some places, but it seems like Chartwells takes their commitment to these things seriously. What does this look like in practice for you all?

Absolutely. We look at this through a few lenses, by offering professional development opportunities for all our team members, promoting and hiring diverse associates, creating greater transparency and connectivity between our managers and frontline associates and most importantly – strengthening a culture that celebrates individual differences and empowers associates to be themselves. One way we do this is through a monthly video series where we highlight our incredible people, giving them our platforms to share their stories and share how their background and culture has influenced who they are today.  

Chartwells philosophy has meant a lot to me personally, it has always felt comfortable and safe for me to be out as a gay woman.

The culinary industry, especially kitchen jobs, can often be considered inhospitable to women. Why do you think this is? How is Chartwells different?

Kitchens are male dominated. When I was in culinary school there were no women Executive Chefs, only men, not one role model for mentoring. Chartwells is different, our parent company Compass Group has created avenues to attract, hire and retain women chefs. Women in Culinary is an internal mentorship, ally and sponsorship program where we celebrate and support the amazing women chefs in our organization.

We are so lucky to be led by a female CEO who believes in building a people-first culture of respect. Our Women in Culinary Program is just one example of how we are empowering our female talent, providing structured experiential learning to get them into their future leadership roles and building a more equitable culinary world.

Another concept that gets a lot of attention – but can be similarly vague – is sustainability. Some restaurants try to employ sustainable practices in sourcing or prepping, but they feel they can’t afford to offer their own staff sustainable work-life balance. Why is it important to have a holistic view of sustainability?

Personal sustainability is just as important as our environmental sustainability practices. We foster a culture of care and concern for our people, giving them the tools and support for their well-being both inside and outside their work. Just this year we relaunched our associate engagement program YouFirst, where we celebrate and recognize our team’s achievements, creating opportunities for encouragement amongst our team, not just from our leaders but from peers as well. 

If someone is considering a culinary career, or a career change… Why should they consider Chartwells?

We truly care about our people, love making food from scratch, being creative and leading the industry in campus dining services.

If you are seeking work/life balance and are looking for an organization that empowers you; Chartwells is the answer.

Finally, we’re really looking forward to seeing you and your team at the upcoming MAPP Restaurant Reset conference. What can you tell us about the conference? Who should attend?

I am excited to be a part of MAPP it is going to be an amazing conference for chefs to network and celebrate what they have accomplished. Women chef from all lines of business are encouraged to attend.