Maya Vincelli is the Assistant Director of Retail Operations for Dining Services at University of Richmond in Richmond, Virginia. She oversee three cafes and two stores, and is currently working on a new wellness cafe opening in fall 2020. Maya began cooking at an early age with her mother and grandmother, celebrating their homegrown produce and southern roots. At the age of 14, she got her first food service job baking at a local café, and never looked back. To date, Maya has had over two dozen food service jobs ranging from making ice cream and roasting coffee to working in fine dining and with exotic seafood. She has always enjoyed the camaraderie, pace, and excitement of a kitchen, whether at home or at work. Maya doesn't believe in the tropes of a screaming chef, slamming pans and throwing out food. Her belief is that Chefs have the unique ability to not only shape a menu, but cultivate the culture of the kitchen. She strives to provide people-first policies, as well as inclusive and respectful kitchens where people with all backgrounds and abilities have the opportunity to be creative and continue their culinary journey.
RAPID FIRE Q&A
I am so interested in what is going on with our Generation Z customers. They are so different than the millennials that we are just finished serving. They're interested in global flavors, risky or non-traditional spices, sauces and condiments. They love to try something new.
Our students are an incredible wealth of information, but I do a lot of research about food trends from white papers and trade magazines. Right now, my inspiration is coming from how busy our students are. Long gone are the days where a student will wait in line for 3 square meals a day. They snack, and think ahead about how to maximize their free time. So while we work tirelessly to provide them with fast, efficient service and great food, I have been taking a step back and trying to figure out how to get them to take a break. Taking care of your physical and mental health is very important these days, and food can have a real impact on both. We create lots of events and pop ups that encourage people to laugh, play, try something new, and just sit down with friends. We’re definitely trying to live in both worlds of fast service and meeting students where they are, and trying to get students to take care of themselves too.
Healthy menu items are so huge. Much of it ties into sustainability, which our generation Z students are more aware of than ever. In this day and age- mental and physical wellbeing is a dynamic topic. Healthy foods take the pressure off of people to manage this part of their day, and allow people to consciously choose something good for them. Often times- this is a balancing act. Pizza and chicken tenders are still king! But these items aren’t every day items to Generation Z customers- they’re special treats that they “earn” through healthy eating throughout the week. Big beautiful salads that are pleasing to the eye are more desirable than ever, and we have really had to think about what fun and interesting foods we can add to keep the salad bar fresh and interesting in retail. Customization is still hugely important to our customers, but they like to get our story on what’s good today.
|I am so excited for the summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan. I think with that incredible amount of media focused there, Japanese cuisine will be even more mainstream than it already is now. I love the Japanese approach to food as well. There is a huge emphasis on eating a variety fruit, vegetables, seafood, seaweed and soy products like tofu, which are just becoming mainstream here for meat eaters. Meals aren’t typically heavy, unless it is a special occasion, and food itself is celebrated in a really wonderful way. Similar to our “farm to table” style eating in the US- Japan showcases the season by showcasing individual ingredients in many ways. I will be so curious to see how that will influence our palates in the next year or so. In the mean time- I have been watching 2 really great Japanese shows—Midnight Diner and Samurai Gourmet- I highly recommend them!|
|Wow this is a big question! I think on a college campus, we are always thinking about this. So much of what we do in retail is “to go” so we’re encouraging more dining in on real Serviceware, and giving discounts for people who bring their own mugs/cups/tumblers. From a back of house perspective, it is all about managing waste, and making ethical choices with our budgets. We place many small orders, instead of large ones, and try to stay on top of the changing weather which can change people’s appetites. Our approach is this—the University has signed on to the President’s climate action plan, and we have to manage those guidelines too. We use over 50 local vendors in retail, we sell lots of vegetarian and vegan items, use compostable service wear and reusable service wear, use reusable packaging for some shipments, and work to reduce waste constantly. One of the more interesting things we did this year was to reuse plates from catering that needed to be replaced. They were faded, old, or just dated, and not good enough for a 4 star experience, but still had plenty of life in them. We have trouble keeping plates in the cafes—they sometimes grow legs and walk over to people’s dorm rooms, so we didn’t want to spend a bunch of money to replace them. Using these vintage patterned plates was just the ticket- and allowed us all to think about what could have a second life somewhere else. They were a huge hit, and kinda too ugly to steal.|
I love to see what is going on in the world, and highlight something from that place. We look to major sporting events, government summits and travel shows to get inspiration on what to feature. It is pretty fun because we get to research that place, that food, food origins and history, and it keeps us all on our toes. It can be a challenge to challenge ourselves regularly because we all get in a regular routine of busy busy busy. But the extra work is always really rewarding.
Is it silly to say Julia Child? When I was a kid she was basically my babysitter, along with Martin Yan, Jaques Pepin and many other PBS chefs. Without really knowing it, I was absorbing these classic recipes, and teaching my brain and eyes how to be in a kitchen. Before long, I was cooking for my family, and trying truly bizarre foods for a 10 year old. Most of all, Julia Child was just filled with constant fascination, something I consider a hallmark of a great chef. You have to come to peace with the fact that you will never know all there is to know about cooking or baking, and you have to love it too. When you are at peace with having a lifetime of learning about food, you can truly appreciate it. Food is a constant teacher.
It may sound corny, but I love to see people succeed. It has been a while since I had to don a chef jacket on the regular—constantly working on the business operations of 5, soon to be 6 busy cafes and stores, but I love to see our chefs succeed. Not just when a young chef learns something new, but is really thriving at their work. I can’t help but smile at those people who find a way to thrive while they’re in the weeds, and come back for more. It is hard work, and when it is done well, it is incredibly satisfying.
|I am one of those weirdos that actually cooks and bakes. I love to cook and work the lines- the rush, the energy of it, but I bake to settle my mind and calm myself down. Right now I have been working on bagels, English muffins and the like, but I would say my true specialty is a perfectly roasted chicken.|
|I am very short. Kitchens are not designed for short people, or women. So I spent a lot of my career fighting my body and being made fun of for not being able to reach something. I had constant bruises across my stomach from reaching into a deep sink, aching back from leaning over in an uncomfortable position. Now, as a leader, I work to build kitchens that are more inclusive of all body types.|
|Wow, you know this is very hard to answer. It is hard to turn my work brain off, so I am constantly checking and looking at things when I go out to eat. My husband Wayne is very patient, because I always like to be able to see into the kitchen, and am often distracted by it. Right now, my favorite restaurant in Richmond, Virginia is Perly’s. It is a modern Jewish restaurant, and is just chock full of charm. Not only do they have a huge and great menu for all types of people, but they have excellent service. They use some fine dining principles- like expediting- to turn those tables and make sure every meal is perfect. They have a great thing going, and I find myself enjoying being there, more than I notice what the workers are doing. Chuck, a local server in our area at a bunch of places works brunch, and also has an uncanny knack for remembering things about his customers. I think that kind of touch is really a lost art. He is half the reason why we go.|