With Yale Dining’s newest addition to its team, the University has put a name to its quest for culinary excellence.
Ron DeSantis, a former consultant, teacher and certified master chef came to Yale three weeks ago to fill the newly created position of director of culinary excellence. DeSantis’ duties include leading all culinary initiatives, running training programs for chefs and dining hall staff, and improving recipes and food. After the role of executive chef was vacated two years ago, Yale Dining Executive Director Rafi Taherian said he wanted to expand the job into a role with more creativity and leadership.
“We have a lot of talent in our organization,” Taherian said. “We need someone to lead them who is well-respected and inspires excellence, and we’ve accomplished that objective.”
A graduate and 25-year veteran of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., DeSantis comes to Yale with a background in cooking for a wide variety of audiences. DeSantis said his culinary experience includes military cooking, in-flight catering, fast food service, fine dining preparations and health-conscious cuisine.
While working at the Culinary Institute of America, DeSantis gained certified master chef status — making him one of only 62 living Americans to pass the prestigious, eight-day culinary test. DeSantis said achieving the certification is one of his proudest moments, and he hopes to adhere to the level of mastery implied by the title in his work at Yale.
“It’s that level of excellence that I want to inspire in everybody here,” he said. “[To] continuously serve great, delicious food at the highest quality and evoke great memories in the students that are eating here.”
As part of maintaining that excellence, DeSantis said he is focused on keeping food quality and service consistent across all 12 residential college dining halls. He meets with chefs from different college dining halls for three to four hours each day, he said, tasting their food, offering suggestions and answering any questions residential college dining hall staff have.
DeSantis, who taught as a faculty member at the Culinary Institute of America during his tenure there, cited his background in education as one of his strengths for his new post. In addition to training chefs, DeSantis said he seeks to give them strategies for instructing their own staff.
Silliman Chef Dave Santana said his experience with DeSantis has been positive so far. Santana said he currently has no plans to begin training with DeSantis, but added that Yale’s new director of culinary excellence is still in early stages of his employment.
“He’s just getting his feet wet and getting to know us, but he’s very pleasant, knowledgeable and approachable,” Santana said.
Taherian said Yale Dining is focusing on being on the forefront of culinary innovation, and hiring DeSantis shows Yale’s commitment to improving its services and the overall dining experience.
While DeSantis said he was excited to have the chance to instruct chefs and work with the team of dining staff at Yale, he said he was also drawn to a position at the University that would let him impact the lives of students every day.
“We focus life around breakfast, lunch and dinner so much that we take breaks for those parts of the day,” DeSantis said. “If you can go into your dining hall and the people are pleasant and the place is nice and the food is well prepared, that’s important.”
Yale Dining has a staff of 540 employees.