Destination Career is a series profiling recent Purdue Agriculture graduates.
Grad cooks up a tasty, sustainable career
By Courtney Mulvey
Photo provided by Courtney Mulvey
Allison Kingery earned a bachelor’s degree in food science from Purdue in 2009. After attending culinary school, she returned to Purdue, where she now uses local ingredients to create sustainable, healthy, fresh meals for students, faculty and staff. Full-size image (8.99 MB)
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On a typical morning, Allison Kingery glides calmly but swiftly from one station to the next in Purdue’s Ford Dining Court kitchen. She directs cooks on how to prepare the vegetables delivered from the Purdue student farms earlier that day and gets everything ready for the lunch rush.
Watching Kingery work, you might assume she was born to run a kitchen. Maybe, but it was a talent that took her a while to discover.
“I had always liked to experiment with food and assumed that working in a factory in a production line was where I was meant to be,” said Kingery, who earned a Purdue Food Science degree in 2009.
But Kingery collected a number of experiences since graduation that led her first to culinary school, then brought her to Ford Dining Court in 2011. Kingery is the production chef at Ford and teaches students both in her kitchen and the classroom.
The life experiences that brought her back to Purdue began with fresh, local produce.
Kingery loves cooking with local produce and being able to tell her customers the food was picked fresh that morning.
“It’s really great to be able to support those farmers doing a good thing, and to expose students to the freshest of the fresh,” she said.
Kingery moved to Portland, Oregon, after graduation to attend culinary school. The city is renowned for its selection of locally grown fresh food.
“I had the opportunity to go to all kinds of markets and specialty markets, but I really didn’t know how to utilize the produce,” she said. “The food was so beautiful, so fresh and local—all these big buzzwords. I really didn’t know what to do with all of these items.”
At culinary school, she not only learned cooking skills, she realized that she was meant to prepare food. She discovered her purpose is to connect food and the people who eat it.
“You really utilize a different part of your brain when you are working in a kitchen than you use when working in a factory or in research and development,” said Kingery.
She also learned that a good chef will use what’s on hand to make a meal, such as using freshly harvested produce rather than an exotic vegetable that had to travel a thousand miles first.
At Ford, she gets help from the Purdue student farm to bring local food to the dining court. The dining court helps the student farm by providing an outlet for excess produce such as beets.
“Ford Dining Court serves 5,000 people a day,” Kingery said. “By utilizing the student farms, we can provide a plateful of truly local food that may have been harvested this morning.”
The food is fresh, economical, sustainable and fun to work with, according to Kingery.
In addition to being a chef, Kingery teaches a course in which students learn everything from basic knife skills to how to prepare gluten-free dishes.
She also operates an internship program in the dining court.
“I expose students to a high-volume kitchen with a menu rotation of over a thousand recipes,” she said. “While these students gain experience problem-solving, working in a fast-paced environment and utilizing large-scale equipment, they also help us achieve big things as a system.”
Students also provide solutions that help the food court operations and the students and staff who dine there. The dining court was considering dropping chocolate chip cookies from the menu because they were expensive to produce. But one of Kingery’s interns set out to create a new, less costly recipe. The student developed several recipes and surveyed tasters to determine the best recipe.
“This student found an equally acceptable recipe that would save up to $15,000 per year,” Kingery said.
Kingery said that working with students and giving them such opportunities is the most rewarding part of her job.
“Being able to give them experiences that really weren’t an option when I was a student is really important to me,” she said. “It is exciting to know that I was a part in the decision-making process.”