Denis Callinan – Alumni Bio
Taking Hospital Dining to the Next Level
Hospital dining has traditionally had a bad reputation. Lately, however, there has been a burgeoning nationwide movement to improve hospital fare. For an example of a vibrant, fresh, and delicious menu, one need only look to the University of Virginia Health System where Compass USA Regional Executive Chef Denis Callinan ’95, PC III is turning hospital food into tempting dishes that meet dietary requirements and use local, seasonal ingredients whenever possible. “Freshness is key. The overall theme is fresh, friendly, fast, and favorite food. There’s no secret cache of frozen entrées,” explains Denis.
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; and William and Mary College in Williamsburg, VA, where he implemented a homemade baking and pastry program.
Working with Dietetic Interns and staff has added another dimension to Denis’s job. “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.”