Production Chef
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Educational background: CIA Baking and Pastry Alum
Years in foodservice: 15, including 5 at University of Illinois
Age: 33

Crystol-Smith Univ-of-IllinoisCrystol SmithFE&S: What attracted you to the foodservice industry in general, and to campus dining in particular?

CS: I grew up watching Lidia Bastianich and other chefs on PBS. When the Food Network started getting popular, Alton Brown got me hooked on the science of food. I always enjoyed art and baking, and pastry was the perfect combination of science and art. I had dreams and my own plans of what I wanted to do, but oftentimes life has other plans. When the opportunity for me to work for the University of Illinois Dining Program came along, I embraced it. I truly enjoy working with the students and being on the front lines of change in regards to industry trends and generational differences.

FE&S: What’s the best career advice you have been given?

CS: Change is good. If you are approached with something that takes you out of your comfort zone and it makes you nervous, do it. It is easy to become complacent when you get too comfortable.

FE&S: What’s an important lesson you’ve learned about working in this segment?

CS: Working in campus dining quickly taught me about many different cultures and their cuisines. Coming in, I was very unfamiliar with Middle Eastern and Asian cuisines. We have a very diverse student population, and we work very hard with them and the cultural groups on campus to write recipes and menus that help provide a little taste of home.

FE&S: What trends and future directions in campus dining are most exciting to you?

CS: I am excited about the new dining facility the university is in the process of building. This generation wants variety, customization and to see and know about everything they are eating.

FE&S: What’s one of the biggest professional challenges you have overcome?

CS: Finding my voice as a leader. I am an introverted person, and overseeing operations on this scale forced me to make decisions quickly and be more vocal and present than I have ever been.

FE&S: What are you most proud of?

CS: Winning the ACF bronze medal in the Chef’s Challenge that we hold each fall.

FE&S: What keeps you in this industry?

CS: My love for food and all the things that are celebrated around it.