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GPI - David La Fleur, Sodexo Executive Chef 

Dylan Pichnarcik / THE GATEPOST

By Dylan Pichnarcik

Interim Asst. News Editor 

What is your academic and professional background?

I've been with the company [Sodexo] for over 30 years at different colleges. This is my eighth account [University] where I've been a chef, and often I speak to large groups of students, and of course, this question comes up: “Chef, tell us a little bit about your schooling, where you went to school, and where you learned to cook.” I’m really honest: I came from the school of hard knocks. I came up from the bottom and worked all the positions from dishwasher to line cook to catering chef and eventually, the executive chef role. I think what comes with that is I have an appreciation for the people who work for me. … I always say that as much as I am the face of the culinary department of Framingham State University with Sodexo, it's our employees who see our students every day. If I want them to be impactful and really connect with students, then I have to go out of my way to connect with them. 

What are your favorite recipes to cook? 

I do a lot of cooking in my house, believe it or not. … It's a passion of mine. I'm in this industry because I love it. … I like to take traditional recipes and put my own personal twist on them. I love South Asian food and I absolutely love making pizzas. I have a pizza oven at my home. So I love being creative with that and pushing the boundaries. I like to entertain so I have my family over, and entertaining, it's a lot of fun. It’s also an opportunity for me to try different things and see how they're received. That's probably a couple of things that I enjoy doing. I also love making barbecue food. Southern cuisine is one of my favorites. 

What drew you to the culinary field? 

I enjoy being creative. I enjoy doing new and different things. I think the most rewarding part of the job is to come up with an idea, see it through its infancy stages, and see it evolve into an event that we have. … It's funny to look at the beginning stages of a conversation about an event that we did just the other day. We did an opening Welcome Back Camp Fire event. To see what we talked about at the beginning and how it transformed into something else was something I really enjoyed. 

What do you like best about FSU?

Some of the accounts [universities] that I have been at have been very large. I cooked at Harvard, Wellesley, and MIT. I enjoy the intimacy of Framingham State University where it's a smaller state school. I feel like I can have more of a connection with our staff. Sometimes in these larger places, a lot of things that you do are difficult so it's hard to be impactful. I feel like we can do that here. I am extremely blessed to have a great staff and I really mean that to the core. I have great people who work with me, who really care about what they do. ... We are very fortunate to have talented people who work in the kitchen who always come up with great ideas and that's something that I enjoy. … I can rely on them to come up with great ideas as well. It's a great collaborative workspace. I don't need the accolades. It's nice to hear, but I'd much rather defer to my staff and say “These guys did a great job.” It might be my idea, but they knocked it out of the park. So I'm really lucky to have great people who are willing to do the extra work. That extra effort to make something great is the best! 

What changes is Sodexo currently implementing in the dining commons? 

During the fall semester, we implemented a theme night at Magellan’s, which is our action station.  In the past, it was all over the map but what we did was have a certain cuisine or theme. Sometimes, it would be Asian-inspired or sometimes, it would be … South American. So we've done those on separate nights and I think it's been very well received. We’re looking to do some different international cuisines within that concept. Another thing that we implemented at Magellan’s is a customizable order station. You can customize it the way you want where we provide you with all the ingredients of a dish and you can fill out your slip how you want it customized. I think kids have really responded well to that and enjoyed it. We also do that over at the grill station. You can get a burger how you want it or with whatever toppings. That's all going to be customizable so we're making it fresh. 

How do you believe dining services have accommodated members of the community with dietary restrictions and allergies? 

I'm going to defer to one of my staff members, Darlene Hughes, who works at my allergen-free station. If I could clone her, I would! She does such an outstanding job. It’s not just the cooking part. It's the connection with students she has that's outstanding. … We just celebrated her as our employee of the semester last fall. … She won last semester just because of her strong connection with students. If you ask anybody who has a dietary restriction or allergen if they know Darlene, chances are they'll say, “Oh yeah, she’s outstanding.” Oftentimes, I tell everybody who works over at that allergen station that it’s not just allergen-free. It’s also the spot if you are just looking for a plain piece of chicken. ... I've been in the company for 30 years. This is the best allergen-free station I have run in any account. 

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