Celebrity Chefs Star in CulinArt’s Return to Dining
RYE BROOK, N.Y., Nov. 11, 2021—CulinArt is tapping into Compass Group’s ChefNet alliance to bring the stars of the Food Network, trend-setting restaurants, and other leading culinary professionals to the dining halls of CulinArt’s university, independent school, and corporate clients as they awaken from a pandemic-induced slumber.
Clients often seek to inject excitement into their dining programs, use them as educational platforms about food and nutrition, and bring a bit of the outside restaurant world into the realm of a workplace or educational setting. ChefNet, which comprises “game-changing chefs who are culinary influencers, serve delicious food, have a compelling culinary philosophy, [and] are committed to their local community,” according to its marketing materials, is ideally suited to support those goals.
Chefs recruited for ChefNet are highly visible in their support for local communities, according to Michael Panfil, director of culinary for Envision Group, Compass’s marketing organization. “Community leaders are the target for ChefNet,” he explains. “We want somebody with good ethics, who is doing sustainable work within a community, within food, and treating food waste as what it should be, which is a sin.” Participants are among the nation’s elite culinary stars—trained at the industry’s top cooking schools, experienced in trendy restaurants in the world’s major urban centers, and comfortable in the spotlight that the Food Network and other media outlets shines on them.
ChefNet appearances also integrate with clients’ efforts to embrace diversity and inclusion among their constituents. Many of the chefs specialize in cultural cuisines from around the world and bring not just new foods or concepts to their appearances but elements of their backgrounds and upbringings as well.
Chef Jet Tila, for example, who mostly toils in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, recently hosted a student cook-off at Stony Brook University, in Stony Brook, N.Y. He also conducted a cooking demonstration of the art of rolling spring rolls, imparting his expertise to a couple of dozen students. These activities coincided with the launch of Chef Jet’s Modern Asian Kitchen in a university food court. The concept, a collaboration between Chef Jet and Envision Group, features rice and noodles, lean meats marinated in spicy and savory sauces, and an infinite combination of crisp, fresh vegetables topped with tangy seasonings.
Chef Julieta Ballesteros, owner and executive chef of La Loteria in New York City, visited Stony Brook University soon thereafter and participated in events to celebrate Hispanic and Latinx Heritage Month. She prepared modern Mexican cuisine—guacamole, salsa and chips, buffalo brussels sprouts tacos, salmon sikil-p’ak (Mayan pumpkin seed dip), elote (Mexican street corn), and butternut squash—in two campus resident dining facilities. It was the second appearance for Chef Julieta at SBU; the first came just before the onset of COVID-19, viewable here.
Chef Julieta also conducted a virtual cooking demo for CulinArt customers at a New York City law firm. While most associates were still working remotely in mid-September, the firm’s diversity and inclusion coordinator arranged for Chef Julieta to connect with them via livestream. To strengthen the connection the firm was trying to achieve, it purchased Chef Julieta’s spice blend and delivered it to the homes of every associate who tuned into the event.
Such virtual appearances by chefs are expected to increase in number as clients work their way back to normal. “We have done over 50 virtual chef appearances with many of our chefs and the appeal is there and will stay,” explains Panfil of Envision Group. “On site appearances will become popular again but virtual works very well and will continue to grow.”
Yet another ChefNet star appearing at Stony Brook University was Chef Barton Seaver, a leading sustainable seafood expert, author, and educator who lent his time and expertise to CulinArt during the university’s orientation week. Seaver conducted a Teaching Kitchen featuring sustainable seafood; signed copies of his “The Joy of Seafood,” an all-purpose seafood cookbook with more than 900 recipes; and, during dinner at a resident dining hall, interacted with students at a table promoting seafood while providing tips and guidance on mindful eating.