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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


UA’s executive chef new to universities, but not kitchens

Turki Allugman
Turki Allugman/ Arizona Daily Wildcat Kevin Lauh, the new UA execute chef, runs the kitchen in the SUMC.

Most prospective university employees don’t have to cook a meal for the hiring committee.

But Kevin Lau, the UA’s executive chef, did just that before being hired six months ago. While Lau hasn’t ever worked for a university, managing a kitchen isn’t anything new for him.

A chef since 1985, Lau has worked at hotels, resorts, convention centers and country clubs across the U.S., and even cooked for former presidents Gerald Ford and Bill Clinton.

Lau’s career began shortly after his father passed away. He never had the opportunity to go to college and focused on working to support his mother. A friend suggested he go to culinary school, but he could not afford it. But an opportunity as a chef apprentice at the Hotel Hershey in Hershey, Pa., put Lau’s foot in the door.

Lau said that working as the executive chef is a very different experience from his previous jobs, with a much slower pace.

“At hotels and clubs, you have to deal with the constant change of menus and banquets,” Lau said. “At clubs, my menus would change on a daily basis.”

University menus, Lau said, tend to stay consistent and don’t have as many items. Although working at the UA is a change from his jobs in the past, Lau said he was enthusiastic about taking the position.

“I asked myself if they needed my help and if I could make a difference, and I said yes to both and here I am,” Lau said. “I took the job and I’m happy I did, it’s a great university.”

Lau’s duties include anything involving fresh food preparation on campus, putting him in charge of the production kitchen and the warehouse. Lau presides over a massive operation, as he estimates that the Arizona Student Unions buy $100,000 worth of consumable food a day and go through $3,900 a month in plastics and paper products, Lau said.

While food preparation is an important component of his job, Lau said his main concern is the people he oversees and serves.

“My main priority is to keep people safe,” he said, “whether it’s to keep my employees safe from getting burned or cut or from things exploding in the kitchen, or to keep students safe from food-borne illnesses.”

While the hiring process for the university’s executive chef is generally the same as other university employees, each applicant is also required to prepare lunch for the hiring committee, said Joel Hauff, the interim director for the Arizona Student Unions.

Most applicants cook the food themselves, Hauff added. Instead, Lau used the kitchen staff to cook the meal, directing them along the way.

“He really demonstrated to us that he’s a teacher, that he’s someone that has the capability of training our staff to be better than they currently are, and to help them with their culinary skills and take them to the next level,” Hauff said. “That really stood out for me personally.”

Lau said he has big goals for the dining experience at the Student Union Memorial Center, and aims to add healthier, non-processed foods to the menu, as well as making more fresh dishes.

“We’re constantly looking at ways to reinvent ourselves and provide students with what they’re looking for today,” Lau said, “for today’s culture and the kind of food that they want.”

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