Food provides so much more than nourishment. It has an incredible power to bring people together, regardless of their differences. And when our chefs cook for others, they serve up not just ingredients, but the memories, traditions, and values behind them.
That’s why we’re highlighting the culinary artists who embrace their cultural heritage and bring their authentic selves to our mission. Our Chef Spotlight initiative honors the diverse culinary talent within our Aramark family—people whose craft can span continents and build common ground.
"The Chef Spotlight program highlights how our chefs use their passion for food to communicate their personal experiences,” explains Heidi Hogan, Vice President of Product Development and Culinary Innovation.
“Our people come from every imaginable background, each with a unique story to share,” adds Chief Diversity and Sustainability Officer Ash Hanson. “Chef Spotlight is an embodiment of the inclusive culture we strive for—one where people can bring their authentic selves to work every day. And that inclusive culture extends to our clients and guests as well."
Combining new menu offerings with personal storytelling, Chef Spotlight will appear across our locations in 2021 and beyond. “Chefs are one of the many unsung heroes of unity,” Hogan shares. “It’s not just about serving great food—it’s about celebrating heritage and connecting people.”
Meet Our Chefs
To commemorate Black History Month, Chef Spotlight launched with three Black chefs, selected from more than 20 employee submissions. Their backgrounds collectively illustrate the rich diversity of Black culture, so innately intertwined with historical themes of dynamism and perseverance. And their creations just might break down stereotypes of what constitutes Black cuisine.
Chef Papa Diouf’s Mafe (Peanut Butter Stew)
“Keep trying to learn new ways to cook from other countries. Use your background and resources to make yourself successful.”
Chef Papa emigrated to the United States in 2001 from Dakar, the capital of Senegal. He first worked as a dishwasher at a chain restaurant, where a manager taught him to fry and grill. Culinary arts became his official calling as he began recreating the food he missed from his home country. These days, you’ll find him on our team in Knoxville, Tennessee. He believes anyone can learn to cook if they put in the effort.
Being fluent in English, French, and Spanish, Chef Papa also seeks to expand others’ knowledge of food from around the world. Senegalese cuisine is deeply influenced by French and Spanish cooking, as well as the neighboring cultures of Mali, Guinea, and the Ivory Coast.
His featured dish, mafe, is a stew made from sautéed beef, vegetables, peanut butter, and spices served over rice. Peanuts are one of Senegal’s most important crops, which is why they are used in many forms of Senegalese cooking, including mafe. The result is simple, comforting, and—as one taste-tester put it—“life changing.”
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Chef Tonya Mitchell’s Gullah Paella
“There will always be a glass ceiling, but glass can be broken. Never be afraid to fracture the glass, because eventually it will break. In other words, don't let stereotypes define who you are and your capabilities. Be bold enough to reach beyond your potential.”
Chef Tonya was born and raised in Georgia by a Black father and a Japanese mother. Her love of Southern cuisine was shaped by her grandmother, aunt, and mother, who served “nothing but soul food” at home.
She intended to become a psychiatrist, but would first have to put herself through college. To do so she landed a job as a prep cook in an Atlanta hotel. By creating the simplest of foods for others to enjoy, she found she could achieve the same laughter and smiles her grandmother had. This experience opened her eyes to what would become her chosen profession. Today, Chef Tonya works as a senior executive chef on our team in Georgia.
An earlier stint in Charleston, South Carolina, further introduced her to Gullah cuisine, whose roots extend back to the West African enslaved people brought to the American colonies in the 1700s. Brimming with flavor and color, Chef Tonya’s Gullah Paella puts this Southern spin on the one-pan Spanish dish guests are already familiar with. Through her cooking, she hopes to leave a legacy of love and to educate others about Black history.
Chef Shaticka Robinson’s Smoked Turkey Meatloaf
“I learned so much about life, love, and family from being in the kitchen. My mother would share stories of her childhood while she shared her most precious recipes with me.”
To hear her tell it, Executive Chef is but one of Shaticka’s core identities. She also considers herself a wife, a mother, a grandmother (“BiBi”), a provider, and a leader. As a young child, she spent many enjoyable hours with her mother in the heart of their home: the kitchen.
Her professional journey included many other roles, from mail carrier to bank vault teller to travel agent. As a newly single mother, she decided to “follow her heart” and enroll in a culinary arts program. To this day, Chef Shaticka draws her inspiration from recipes passed down from generation to generation.
For example, to mark Juneteenth in 2020 she dug deep into tradition with an event starring Big Red sodas, strawberry pie, and a requisite red dress code. Much of her Juneteenth menu was smoked, and she applies this same cooking technique to the Smoked Turkey Meatloaf she created for Chef Spotlight. She views food as a universal language through which she can educate others about Black history.
Meals That MatterAs this program makes clear, sharing food is akin to sharing a part of ourselves, and a path to understanding each other more fully. These three stories only scratch the surface of how one’s heritage can shine through the dishes we serve.
“The true purpose of Chef Spotlight, in my opinion, is to focus on the amazing people that just happen to be chefs!” proclaims Chef Marion Gibson, Director of Culinary Development. “The recipes act as a catalyst to explore culture and educate our guests about food communities outside of their own. My great hope is that one taste of something new will encourage people to search for more: more information, more understanding, and more friends who are not ‘just like’ themselves!”
Chef Spotlight was first activated through our Leaders and Employees of African Descent (LEAD) employee resource group (ERG), an employee-led group composed of people with common interests, backgrounds, and demographics. As a company, we will continue to tell the stories of our employees—and the meals that matter to them—through collaborations with other Aramark ERGs.
Our initial call for Chef Spotlight submissions yielded a robust collection of stories and recipes that will feed into our year-round menu development. The food is original yet approachable, which speaks to the global nature of today’s culinary industry and consumer behavior.
As Hogan puts it: “We look at our team members through a broader lens and celebrate the great gifts they bring to not only all of us at our organization, but also our consumers and our clients.”