Chef Denis Callinan ’95, Taking Theme Park Food to the Next Level
CIA Alumni Bio
Entertainment is serious business, according to Kings Dominion, a subsidiary of the Cedar Fair Entertainment Company. Located in Doswell, VA, the amusement park has more than 60 rides and the all-inclusive 20-acre water park Soak City. At the helm of the foodservice division is executive chef Denis Callinan, PC III. “I missed the thrill and challenge of working in a theme park from my early days working at Disney. When I saw the posting, I immediately applied. Working in such a big facility is exciting to me,” says Denis.
The Best Place to Train
He’s always preferred large production kitchens. “My sister got me into catering when I was 14 and I found I really loved the business,” says Denis. He worked in the cafeteria at IBM in Fishkill, NY while still in high school before enrolling at The Culinary Institute of America. “Cooking was the only thing I was really good at and the CIA was the best place to train for a future in the profession,” Denis says. “From knife skills to sauces to product identification and cooking techniques, the curriculum builds your skills by levels as you move through the classes and you develop your core discipline. The CIA gives you the structure to plan the rest of your career.”
His own career would take him to the Four Seasons in Philadelphia, PA; corporate dining for IBM in Poughkeepsie, NY; Walt Disney World in Orlando, FL; William and Mary College in Williamsburg, VA, where he implemented a homemade baking and pastry program; and the University of Virginia Medical Center.
Leading the Way
“As I grew in my career, I found I was good at leading people,” he says. “I spend a good deal of time on product ID so my staff understands when fresh products are available and how to use them. When you’re the leader, you have to be the best cook, and that’s why I continued my education with CIA ProChef Certification. At each ProChef level, your skill set is greatly enhanced. And the guidance from the faculty was invaluable to my professional growth.”
“Being a chef—especially if you’re CIA trained—is in a way a recession-proof job,” Denis continues. “People have to eat. You have the ability to take your skills anywhere and the jobs have become more diverse. Whatever you decide to do, you should continue learning and expanding your repertoire. And always take it to the next level.”
Chef Denis Callinan graduated with a degree in culinary arts at The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. He is the executive chef at Kings Dominion theme park in Doswell, VA.