Resident District Manager Michael Aquaro
Location: Durham, North Carolina
Number of people fed each day: 2,600
With Bon Appétit Management Company since: 2001
Farm to Fork Farmer: Patrick Robinette, Harris Acres
“Part of the fun of working here is getting involved in the local communities. When we tour local farms and meet the families, we see the direct impact on the community of the money we spend buying locally. That’s what it’s all about to me.”
Why I work with food:
My interest in food was sparked when I was a kid growing up in an extended Italian family. There was a big kitchen in the basement at my great grandmother’s house and I remember that my grandmother, great grandmother and aunt would always be down there preparing meals. I’d stay down there for hours watching them, looking at the ingredients, smelling the aromas, but I was never allowed to touch anything. Many of the ingredients came from my great grandmother’s garden, which she tended until she died at 102 years old. I absorbed a lot in those years, but my most vivid memory is picking fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, and zucchini in the summer and then seeing them a couple hours later in my dinner right off the vine and straight onto my plate. The freshness of that type of cooking is incomparable. After all those years of itching to cook, I finally got my chance at 13. It was the first day of summer and I had just flopped down on the couch and turned on the TV. My mom said, “You’re not going to just hang around all summer. There’s a man who owns a restaurant and he will give you a job. You’re going to go see him this afternoon and take the job.” I knew that first day that I wanted to cook for a living. I worked at that restaurant for several years after school and on weekends throughout high school. After graduation I went to Michigan State and completed their Hotel and Restaurant Management program, which gave me an invaluable outside-of-the- kitchen perspective. After a few years cooking in New York I started working for Bon Appétit Management Company at Grove City College in Weston, Pennsylvania. The philosophy of the company cooking from scratch with fresh, local ingredients was so close to my own, it seemed like the perfect place for me.
What sustainability means to me:
Sustainability isn’t just about taking care of the land. It’s also about taking care of the farmers who work the land. When we first started working with Patrick at Harris Acres he was raising and processing his grass fed beef full time, while also working part time at a nearby Wal-Mart to help take care of his family. The relationship began with a handshake and the understanding that we wanted to work with him and we were fully aware that there may be supply hiccups related to sourcing from a small farm and that we were perfectly willing to continue to work through the bumpy parts. With our support, he was able to expand the farm with confidence and no longer has to work off the farm. We take care of each other. If he needs some chef volunteers for an event, the staff is always willing to jump in. If we need him to adjust our order, he’s happy to comply.
Why Bon Appétit Management Company is Different:
The truly striking thing about Bon Appétit Management Company is the entrepreneurial spirit. Besides being encouraged to use the best possible ingredients and cook from scratch, each chef is able to operate as if it’s his or her own business. Being able to write your own menus within sustainable sourcing guidelines gives a creative chef free rein to produce the best, healthiest food for the season and area.