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Chef Greg Eisele

UT Knoxville employs more than 10,000 people on a campus that serves nearly 30,000 students. This small city is home to a number of rarely seen spaces and interesting people in a wide range of quirky and unique jobs. Volunteers at Work, a Q&A portrait series, seeks to introduce our campus to the people behind the scenes and the interesting spaces where they work.

Greg Eisele, Culinary Program Director for UT Culinary and President of the American Culinary Federation’s Smoky Mountain Chapter

Roles and responsibilities: As Culinary Program director, my responsibilities include managing the education of culinarians in the program and finding work in the industry for the graduates. I adapt and implement the curriculum for the program, teach courses, organize and schedule for the American Culinary Federation (ACF) certified chef-instructors. We execute at least 10 events per 12-week program session, which can serve anywhere from 80 to 200 people. The final event is off site, where we help with a nonprofit that needs our love. We’ve served Second Harvest Food Bank, the American Red Cross, and the Knoxville Police Department to execute an appreciation lunch for those organizations.

I want these culinarians to learn that it’s not all about money; it’s so important to give back to your community.

As ACF president, my role is to ensure that our mission is being followed: making great food responsibly. That entails organizing certification scholarships, organizing personal chef certification mentorship programs, evaluation of board members and officers, building membership, and assisting with youth education programs such as workshops for Tennessee School for the Deaf students and the ProStart culinary program. ProStart is by far the best high school culinary program in the country; every state has participants. We just helped judge and mentor the state final Prostart culinary competition last week, which was really a fabulous experience giving back to the young culinarians.

A good chef must . . . prioritize his or her time and values. My motto in teaching culinarians is that we teach passion and engagement—the driver of that motto is culinary education. As long as the students are passionate and engaged, the culinary part is very simple. Our values are teamwork, passion, and engagement.

On making his move into the kitchen: When I was 15 years old, I was a busboy [at the Seventh Inn Restaurant in St. Louis] and I like to eat. Long story short—at 18, I was executive chef at this four-star International Restaurant Rating Bureau–rated restaurant. It was crazy—I made a lot of mistakes and I painfully learned a lot of things the hard way.

The number one rule in Chef Eisele’s kitchen? Teamwork.

The jerk chefs you see on TV? That’s for TV ratings, because everyone would walk out on you. Again, teamwork has to be the first priority. Maybe 20 or 30 years ago chefs could rule with an iron fist, but you can’t get away with that these days.

Favorite kitchen tool? Imagination.

Otherwise, one French knife. You can do so many things with it. My favorite one is a Henckel, and it only comes out of the cupboard for Christmas. It was given to me by Chef Werner Greevey, a certified master pastry chef who I did an internship with at the Adam’s Mark Hotel about 30 plus years ago.

His Christmas go-to? I love to make an herb-stuffed prime rib.

But . . . I don’t like chocolate and I don’t like sweets. When I did the baking/pastry chef internship, I just got burned out on it. Chocolate—blech.

Memorable moments on the job: Those moments of “this is an amazing job” are almost daily, especially when I feel that I’ve impacted someone’s life. About a month ago, I had the opportunity to teach a fundamental cooking program for the Tennessee School for the Deaf. It was really cool to get the chance to teach these students. I’m planning to be there as a coach and mentor for the school to do the Prostart Culinary Competition in March 2020.

I love that I can impact lives in my job, and I love that UT supports me in that process.

The most complicated project I’ve ever had to do was a offsite catering project for the LPGA. I managed a commissary kitchen, serving 30,000 meals daily—breakfast, lunch, and dinner—a day. The first day we all worked 30 hours straight.