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News & Events

01-03-2011

The New Chef In Town

[A photo of Zahner for newspaper use is available at http://www.clarkson.edu/news/photos/zahner.jpg]

No one knows more about the food on the Clarkson University campus than the students and faculty who eat it daily. To them, Michael R. Zahner, the new executive chef for Aramark Campus Dining Services, would like to send this message: the lines of communication are open.zahner

“I want to bring customer appreciation to a new level,” says Zahner (pronounced ZAY-ner), who was appointed in August. “I want to be able to find what it is that they’re looking for. I don’t wait for the students to come to me. I’ll be out there talking to the students and approaching them in a way that’s upbeat. I want them to accept me as an executive chef who has the power to give them what they’re looking for.”

And with a new line of communication comes new ideas, such as cooking demonstrations in the near future to show students how to prepare balanced meals on a budget.

“What are they going to do when they step out of a dorm and go into a place where they have to cook for themselves?” he asks. “Are they going to burn the house down? Or are they going to eat ramen noodles for the rest of their lives?”

Zahner comes to Clarkson after four years as dining services director at the Salisbury School in Connecticut. He says he fell in love with the North Country the moment he first set foot in the region.

“It just happened that I came on an excellent day,” says Zahner, who cites hiking and mountain biking among his hobbies. “The humidity was at the right level, the temperature was at the right level, the sky was blue, everybody’s happy. This area has almost a Southern feel to it because people are very friendly.”

Zahner has been equally impressed with the many staff workers under his care.

“These are some great people here,” he says. “I’ve been very happy with the people that I work with. They take pride in what they’re doing. Obviously, working on a grill every day making burgers and eggs can get monotonous, but you know what? You see these guys and they’re always smiling. These people really put their heart and soul into it.”

Food has always been a passion for the Kansas native and self-described “Navy brat.” His first brush with cooking was at the age of four, when he used his sister’s Kenner E-Z Bake Oven to make cookies. While in college, he worked as a cook at the Putney Inn in Vermont, where he learned the art of cooking under Paris-trained chef Gerald Greenberg. Zahner worked with Greenberg for six years before embarking on his own career, one that included a brief tenure as assistant food service director at SUNY New Paltz, and as director of dining services at The Salisbury School in Connecticut.

Zahner –the youngest in a family of five– is not the only culinary expert in the family. One of his brothers owns a catering business in the Boston area, and a cousin owns his own restaurant in Colorado Springs, Colo.  And, he adds, “my mother is an excellent cook!”

Zahner considers himself an artist. “My thing has always been that you see the food before you smell it or you taste it. You need to be enticed and impressed from the beginning. If you’re going to just slap the food on the plate, you shouldn’t be in the business.”

PHOTO CAPTION: Michael R. Zahner, executive chef, Aramark Campus Dining Services at Clarkson University.

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Annie Harrison, Director of Media Relations, at 315-268-6764 or aharrison@clarkson.edu.]

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