Chef Robert Landolphi, manager of Culinary Development at the University of Connecticut (UConn) in Storrs, literary wrote the book on gluten-free cooking — three of them, actually.
After graduating from Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I., Landolphi opened the Sugar Shack, a bakery café on the outskirts of the UConn campus. “When I purchased the bakery, I wanted it to be our family business, more or less,” he said. “I figured that would be my place for the rest of my life. My wife, who was at grad school at UConn, and working at the bakery from the period of 1996-2000, became very ill, and we couldn’t figure out why.”
It turned out that she has celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that can occur in genetically predisposed people, in which the ingestion of gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye and barley) leads to damage in the small intestine, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation. “Here I was; I owned this bakery, and it was one of those things where I had to make a big decision,” said Landolphi. “It really wasn’t going to be a family business anymore because she couldn’t take part in it. I made the decision to put it up for sale. At that time, I took an assistant manager position with UConn Dining Services.”
While initially working at UConn, where he has been for 14 years, he began researching the gluten-free diet his wife was now starting. “Being that there were no drugs that she could take, it was just adherence to the diet. I wanted to figure out the whole gluten-free thing,” he said. “I dove in and started doing it on my own at home cooking for my wife.” ...
After two years at UConn, Dennis Pierce, currently the director of UConn Dining Services and associate director at the time, was looking for someone on staff who knew anything about celiac disease because two new students with the disease were starting on campus. “I said that I had been living in a gluten-free house for two years and that I knew quite a bit about it,” said Landolphi. “We sat down with those two students back then and met their needs. At that time, those two students were living in a freshmen dorm. We took that one facility and said, ‘Let’s go through the menu and look what is naturally gluten-free that we are already serving.’ It took a lot of work.” ...
Have you ever been in a situation where you’re happy with your current position and the ideas you have been working on for a number of years are finally taking root and making a difference? It’s all coming together. The strong team you built and the program you have envisioned together is starting to bloom and the successes are unfolding. You’re finally at a time to take a step back and look at the things you’ve set in place and see what they are achieving. You can finally smile and be proud of this team and what they’ve done, and see the advancement they have each made personally. Life is good and you love your job.
And then, one day, a position opening comes across your desk that makes you stop and think. An opportunity that makes you go, “Hmmm. I wonder. What if?”
Well that happened to me just over a year ago. After 13 years at the University of Colorado - Boulder, I’d advanced my career to the position of assistant director of Dining: Culinary Operations/Executive Chef when suddenly the director of Residential Dining & Catering position at Oregon State University (OSU), University Housing & Dining Services (UHDS) arrived in my inbox.
Over the next week or so, this same position came to me from three or four different sources. It made me stop and think. Is this a sign? Again, “Hmmm. I wonder. What if?” kept spinning through my head.
I found myself applying and a few months later the “What if?” fast forwarded into my decision to accept the position.
One of the first things to address after the initial introduction period was over were ways to strategize my transition into the new organization. Depending on the circumstances surrounding your appointment, you either have to “hit the road running” from the very first day or, like in my case, have the luxury of coming into a strong program that wasn’t broken, but ready to go to the next level. This allowed me to obtain an oversight of the new operation before having to decide on a strategic direction. ...