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Taking PRIDE in Our People: Highlighting LGBTQ+ Chefs

Community |  6.2.2021
Food is a key element in any celebration and has an undeniable power in bringing people together. We’re celebrating Pride Month, which honors the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in Manhattan, by elevating the voices and culinary contributions of Aramark chefs who share their authentic selves at work every day while empowering others to do the same.

"We want our colleagues, our clients, and their customers to know that Aramark embraces all people. Every day, we aim to let employees know we’re here. That this group is a home, a place where they can share good times and bad."
- Alyx Reinhardt (she/her), IT Senior Technical Analyst and PRIDE co-chair

Having PRIDE in Our Work

We believe that helping every individual feel safe and respected at work is a collective effort, one of ongoing education, outreach, and advocacy. By continuing our Chef Spotlight activation, we’re telling the stories of our employees and the meals that matter to them, through collaborations with our employee resource groups (ERGs).

“ERGs are spaces for folks to come together and find community, -- places where they can hear their own stories reflected back to them, while hearing stories of others’ experiences,” Kaela Blanks (she/her or they), Global Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Manager affirms.

Aramark PRIDE is our ERG which focuses on fostering an open, inclusive environment in which lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning (LGBTQ+) employees and their allies are fully engaged to achieve organizational goals and enhance professional growth.

“We touch a lot of lives and it’s exciting to me that Aramark embraces our work,” Alyx Reinhardt (she/her), IT Senior Technical Analyst and PRIDE co-chair says. “Together, we’re moving the ball forward.”

When she came to Aramark more than 20 years ago, Reinhardt placed a framed photo of her girlfriend – now wife – on her desk, determined to be open and “out” at work. Ever since that day, she has experienced a welcoming work environment and was instrumental in forming our PRIDE ERG to help her LGBTQ+ colleagues feel the same.

Conversation and Collaboration

Backed by advisors and executive sponsors across Aramark’s leadership team, our PRIDE ERG aims to offer employees a safe space while furthering inclusion and equality for the entire LGBTQ+ community. Vince Poplaski (he/him), VP of Executive Compensation and our other co-chair of PRIDE, believes the ERG is most effective when working in collaboration with other ERGs. By working together, ERGs can help bring underrepresented voices to the table allowing for a more robust conversation.

For example, in February PRIDE partnered with Aramark LEAD (Leaders & Employees of African Descent) on a cross-ERG event. “Overlooked No More” profiled Black members of the LGBTQ+ community throughout history, illuminating trailblazing individuals whose contributions and experiences went unnoticed during their lifetimes. And in March, PRIDE and EMPOWER, our ERG offering support, education and community for women, teamed up for another virtual event. “WOW: Women Out at Work,” a celebration of Women’s History Month that highlighted intersectional empowerment.

"In every ERG, we’re helping people realize they are not held back by the things they can’t control,” Poplaski says.

“We’re doing our part to bridge the gap in education – there are a lot of people who need to hear this information, they just need to be told which way to turn their ears,” adds Reinhardt.

Poplaski and Reinhardt say that their PRIDE events are often designed to engage non-ERG members or colleagues who may have limited exposure to LGBTQ+ experiences and are looking for ways to increase their allyship. As part of our Pride Month celebrations, PRIDE looks forward to hosting a “What’s Your Pronoun?” event, a platform for employees to discuss their pronouns and understand the importance of being respectful of gender identity.

Meet A Few Of Our Chefs

To further commemorate Pride Month, we asked Aramark chefs to submit recipes that best represent their experiences as LGBTQ+ community members and allies. Through our Chef Spotlight program, we showcase diverse culinary talent across our business and highlight chefs whose positive impact is honored through their recipes and personal stories in the locations we serve.

“For me, the Chef Spotlight program is the epitome of the PRIDE ERG's mission around fostering an open and inclusive environment,” Blanks says. “It can help all LGBTQ+ employees gauge and achieve their organizational goals and professional growth. It's all about the amplification of people and their stories.”

The enthusiasm of these culinarians is a testament to their dedication to educate employees as well as our clients and guests of the importance of representation.

Chef Jules Botham’s Roasted Squash with Yogurt Sauce & Frizzled Onions

Executive Chef Jules Botham (she/her) grew up in the Midwest, and from an early age came to love and appreciate the abundance of fresh produce available to her year-round. She entered the culinary world after a lifetime of loving food and the natural connection it formed between people across different backgrounds – and as a queer woman in the hospitality industry, she was especially appreciative of an art form that could bridge divides.

Chef Jules Botham believes food can bridge divides and empower people to be themselves.
By leaning on the support of family members, friends, and mentors, Chef Botham began expressing herself more authentically each day, in life and in cooking. In the kitchen, she aims to explore different things and discover what brings her joy. By trying new things, failing, reflecting and “doing it all over again,” she perfected her Roasted Squash with Yogurt Sauce and Frizzled Onions, which is equal parts inspired by the vegetables she loved growing up, as well as the environmental imperative to reduce meat consumption.

Chef Juan Cadet’s Haitian Legume

Chef Juan Cadet (he/him) is a Prep Cook and PRIDE member whose culinary inspiration is rooted in the food of his home country, Haiti, a place he holds dear to his heart and sparked his love for food – but a place, too, where the LGBTQ+ community often faces explicit disenfranchisement and inequality. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, Chef Cadet aims to share his Haitian culture in tandem his personal beliefs and way of life.

Chef Cadet unites his cultural heritage with his personal beliefs in his unique dishes.
When he was growing up, Chef Cadet found encouragement and support from his mother, who pushed him to never give up on his dreams. His dish was borne of Haiti’s colonization: Haitians used leftover vegetables and proteins served to the French to make their own meal, a dish that has now transcended generations. He hopes those who get to enjoy the legume appreciate its historical significance and unique flavor profile.

Chef Takisha Wise’s TJ's Vegan Universal Waffles

Lead Vegan Chef Takisha Wise (she/her) is a hardworking mother with a creative spirit, who strives to always appreciate the small things in life. The strength she cultivated growing up without her mother -- alongside her three sisters -- now motivates her to inspire other women in similarly difficult situations. Her love for cooking was ignited when she was seven years old, when she began accompanying her grandmother in the kitchen.

Chef Wise’s culinary creations reflect her inner spirit and authenticity.
As a chef, she is determined to always stay true to herself, remaining outspoken and never allowing her environment to label her or tell her who to be. This authenticity shines through in her culinary contributions, too, since she chooses to bring the love she has for herself into her food. Her Vegan Universal Waffles are loved unconditionally by everyone who’s lucky enough to try one. The recipe can be used for any meal – Chef Wise describes it as the "unicorn" of pancake and waffle mixes.

Prioritizing Safe Spaces

Creating and maintaining safe spaces that honor and represent our diverse network is always top of mind, because our first priority is always the health and safety of our people. By fostering education and empowerment across all our portfolios, we’re taking pride in each individual who comes through our doors – this Pride Month and beyond.

“We want our colleagues, our clients, and their customers to know that Aramark embraces all people,” Reinhardt affirms. “Every day, we aim to let employees know we’re here. That this group is a home, a place where they can share good times and bad.”