There are many hands at work at John Brown University Kresge Dining Hall. According to JBU Facts, there are approximately 900 students who live on campus and are all required to have a meal plan. Adding in faculty and, occasionally, community members, there are quite a number of people that the Kresge Dining Hall sees each day. There is a certain skill set required that the head leadership must have in order to keep the selection of options innovative and fresh to students, faculty and community members.
The new executive chef, Gerald Becker, is no new face to the Kresge Dining Hall. Becker first began his time at JBU as a Chef for Aramark from 2003 to 2008. During that time, Becker sought to make a personal connection with each face that came through the line and the students working in the kitchen each day.
“I tried to be in the lines each day to see the students and talk with them,” said Becker. “Every four to six weeks, we met with the students and I fed them something and asked questions like, ‘What do you guys like?’ and ‘What are your ideas?’ just to get more input from them.”
Becker returned to JBU through Creative Dining Services in March 2015 and strives to continue his tradition of being intentional with each student in hearing their insights and concerns about the Dining Hall experience.
“We just did a survey that students filled out to get a better idea of what the students are wanting and then work on making those changes,” said Becker.
Chances are that the requests from students may not be out of the league for Becker and his associate chefs to take on. Becker began his journey in the culinary world at the ripe age of 14.
“I was a busboy at a Chinese restaurant and actually got fired because I was hanging out in the kitchen too much,” said Becker. “A couple months later they hired me to clean vegetables and other related tasks—I’ve been in the kitchen ever since.”
From the beginning stages of his career to now, Becker has planted his roots in many parts of the country and worked in many different kitchens. However, Becker notes how JBU has been one of his favorite places to work because he has the most interaction with people.
“My position as an Executive Chef with CDS has provided me with the most interaction with many students,” said Becker. “It’s totally different than my last position in working as a chef at a hospital, where the only thing patients could control was their food—which was, a lot of times, restricted.”
Becker not only enjoys the relationships he has built with various students, but also looks forward to establishing intentional relationships with both students and his co-workers. Sharon Lane, who is the Catering Supervisor of CDS, notes how Becker truly shows a strong and passionate work ethic in all areas of his career.
“Chef gets to know the people he is around,” said Lane. “Whether you are an employee or a student coming through the line, he has a smile and a joke for the people he comes in contact with.”
By establishing this type of demeanor early in his career, Becker has made an impression on many of his past and current co-workers.
Ultimately, Becker wants students to know that he aspires to make the dining experience the best that it can be for each student and that he looks forward to being back on the JBU campus.
“If any students has any input or request, come see me,” said Becker. “It’s good to be back at JBU.”