Not a day goes by where Joel Kraft, executive chef of Lackmann Culinary Services, Fisher’s food service company, does not put a smile on a hungry student’s face. For many, the Ward-Haffey Dining Hall is a place to gather and eat meals with friends. For Kraft, the dining hall is his office playground.
From fine dining to preparing meals for college students, Kraft has an extensive background in cuisine, but he didn’t always know he wanted to work within a family-friendly environment. In 1996, he found himself at Johnson and Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island, where he received an associate’s degree in culinary arts. While a student, he landed an externship experience at Oak Hill Country Club that led him and the head chef of the club to River Oaks in Houston, Texas, where the cheesecake-lover perfected his fine dining and contemporary cooking techniques.
After holding leadership chef roles at River Oaks, Bristol Harbour, and Oak Hill, Kraft accepted the executive chef position at Fisher in January 2009. All of his hard work throughout the years at Fisher recently paid off when, this past fall, the College and Lackmann earned high praise from
Niche.com. The publication’s 2018 Best College Food in America list ranked Lackmann No. 15 in America and No.3 in New York State, just under The Culinary Institute of America and Cornell University.
“I am really proud of our team, they really do all of the work,” said Kraft. “There are a lot of people here who taught me new things. Without bringing in people who challenge us as an organization and as a team at Fisher, I don’t think we would be anywhere. I love the diversity that we have. It makes us all stronger. It helps push us to do our best. At the end of the day, if I can go to bed knowing that everyone gave it their all to make the guests happy, that’s who I want to thank.”
For guests at Lackmann, it may be easy to choose a favorite meal at the dining hall, but for Kraft, it is impossible to decide on just one favorite meal to prepare or eat. If he had to eat one meal or food for the rest of his life, Kraft says he would choose anything with avocado.
It’s no surprise that his favorite aspect of the job is the constant experimentation with the food.
“I love that even though I came from a slightly more classical background, I can learn about and keep up on modern trends,” he explained. “I am happy with the variety, and my favorite thing is learning. St. John Fisher College, the Lackmann team, and Andrea Maccarone [director of dining services], challenges us by pushing us to experiment with food.”
In addition to spending nine years at Fisher running the dining hall, Kraft has hosted cooking classes with Meg Bain, wife of President Emeritus Dr. Donald E. Bain. He also prepares meals to support the Yellow Ribbon Program, which helps cover tuition for student veterans. Every summer, he works with the Buffalo Bills trainers to create menus for the team during Training Camp at the College.
So, where does Kraft get his inspiration and passion for the culinary arts? He said he respects the teaching of Alton Brown, creator and host of Good Eats, a television cooking show that ran from 1998 to 2012. Brown currently hosts “Cutthroat Kitchen” on the Food Network.
He has spent many years cooking for and giving back to the Fisher community, and he plans to continue this for years to come. We think that’s the cherry on top.
“My entire career I always wanted to know the next step, but I really feel that I have settled into a routine and a career that I don’t need to have a five- to ten-year plan,” he said. “If everything goes well, I will still be here.”