Moments That Matter
Spotlight - Chef Margaret Occhipinti
This article was republished with permission from the National Culinary Review®, July/August 2021, Volume 45, Issue 4, 2021 by The American Culinary Foundation. All rights reserved. For more information on this or any other ACF publication, please call (800) 624-9458 or visit www.acfchefs.org.
Women Who Lead
In her role, Chef Margaret Occhipinti oversees business dining, on-site restaurants and food halls across the country and is responsible for all aspects of culinary, including concept and recipe development, identifying product specs, hiring and training, guest experience, food quality, food safety and more. She manages three senior executive chefs and 14 executive chefs and their teams across seven campuses.
With so many different people to manage, Chef Occhipinti takes a personalized approach to leadership. “In my experience, the more that you invest in your team, the more you get back in terms of quality, drive and productivity,” she says.
Chef Occhipinti does this by meeting regularly with her team members — having coffee or lunch one-on-one before COVID-19 (and hopefully again soon when safe to do so) — to discuss challenges and opportunities.
“I make it a priority to know everyone’s name and care about their lives and their goals,” she says. “It’s also important to give honest feedback, both positive and constructive.”
By getting to know her team well, Chef Occhipinti is able to approach tough topics with ease. She approaches everything with honesty, whether it’s being empathetic toward others when it comes to fears about COVID-19, dealing with a performance issue or encouraging safe kitchen practices.
It’s not all tough stuff. Chef Occhipinti tries to create a culture that is upbeat, fun and creative.
“An atmosphere that is fun and whimsical helps to keep the creative juices flowing and the energy high,” she says. “I encourage our team to take a risk, to go with that crazy idea — you never know what is going to be the next great thing.”
Chef Occhipinti also makes sure to involve everyone in the menu creation process.
“I typically work with the executive chefs to set the structure and talk about what is trendy, seasonal and a good fit for our restaurants,” she says. “The chefs have autonomy to write their menus and recipes, and I review and oversee implementation.”