Chef Ben Guggenmos finds personal fulfillment working to improve the Hillsborough school district's meal offerings.
any kind of German food
Hobbies and Interests
golf, boxing, being active
Datz Deli in Tampa
Culinary Book Recommendation
Fiesta at Rick's by Rick Bayless
Favorite TV Food Show
his father, Master Chef Karl Guggenmos
Getting professional chefs to contribute their talents to school kitchens has been one of the major goals of First Lady Michelle Obama's campaign to improve school meals.
One chef who didn't need prodding from the First Lady was Ben Guggenmos, who joined the Hillsborough County (FL) Schools at the beginning of this school year as a contract consultant retained to revamp the menu, improve presentation and train the staff.
Guggenmos has quite a pedigree — literally. His father is a master chef who currently serves as dean of culinary for Johnson & Wales University in Providence, RI. J&W is also where the younger Guggenmos earned Bachelors (in nutrition) and Masters (in global leadership) degrees. His career stops include two years as manager of club dining for the NFL's New England Patroits.
Hillsborough is one of the country's largest districts, with nearly 200,000 students and some 250 school sites. With a 60 percent free/reduced percentage, it is also fraught with the same challenges that face most large urban school systems, including its share of childhood obesity and its attendant health risks.
That is something Guggenmos knows from personal experience: not too long ago, through a concentrated program of diet and exercise, he achieved a 70-lb. weight loss in less than a year.
Where did you start your career?
I grew up in Charleston, SC, and worked as sous chef in the Charleston Harbor Hilton. Later, while I was in school, I was sous chef at a famous local restaurant called the Mustard Seed. I then worked for the Patriots after moving to Providence to get my Masters. I ran their luxury clubs for two seasons during which they won two Super Bowls, so it was quite a lot of fun.
Any war stories?
My first big event was the grand opening for Gillette Stadium, a huge plated dinner under a tent on the field. All the players were there as well as lots of celebrities. Elton John came and played for about an hour and a half and I was about 10 feet away from him the whole time. The only experience that rivals that one is my first day with the Patriots, when I was running the players' dining room for training camp and they introduced me to the team. I was like a deer in headlights seeing all those guys there.
What prompted you to lose all that weight?
I was just tired of being chubby. I wanted to be able to go into a store and be able to buy a pair of pants easily. My goal was to be able to fit into normal clothes.
What's your weight loss secret?
Just changing my diet and eating right, really. I was always a pretty big guy who worked out, but I changed how I looked at food.
What about exercise?
I do a combination of resistance training with weights and cardio workouts.
Why did you choose to join a school district?
I was looking for a place where I could make the biggest impact, and to me there is no more important place than school foodservice. For many kids, over half their daily nutrition needs are met at school.
What's the biggest thing you've learned?
The taste variances between the secondary and elementary schools — I think I now have a much better idea of the types of foods that the younger and older kids like. Also, I've come to appreciate that school foodservice works just like a business. The food has to look good, sound good and taste good.
What does your dad think of what you're doing now?
He loves it. He'd be proud of me whatever I'm doing, but he's happy that I found something I really like. He always told me he didn't care what I did, whether I went into the culinary profession or not, as long as I was happy with it.