Lee Chamberlain, Executive Chef in our Business Dining line of business, traveled the world before settling in the Midwest. Today, he enjoys a healthy work-life balance while growing his career as a culinarian at Aramark.
Originally from New Zealand, Lee (He/Him) got his first taste of the culinary lifestyle through a high school program that encouraged him to work in a restaurant. It was his experience with his Army schooling of London City and Guilds, however, that really prepared him for large-scale culinary operations.
“It’s not that I didn’t love my family or anything like that, but as soon as I became 18, I was like, I’m ready to get going. So I took a few tests, passed the physical requirements and got sent to infantry training. Once that was done, we went into whatever field we decided, and I went into Cheffing.”
When he left the New Zealand Army at 23, Lee continued to move about, traveling the world for work and pleasure.
“At about 23, I moved to Australia where my sister was. I worked in some restaurants there, then came to America and worked a summer camp in North Carolina. After that, I spent several years traveling and working throughout England, Scotland, Ireland, and the Czech Republic where I met my wife. Then I went to Asia and traveled through Malaysia, Thailand, and Singapore.”
Eventually, Lee decided it was time to slow down, build a family and continue to grow his culinary career, which brought him to his wife’s home state of Indiana. After several years as a private chef, Lee sought out a job with a better work-life balance, finding a home in Aramark’s business dining line of business.
While he started as a Food Production Manager at Aramark, Lee has since moved up to Executive Chef and has greatly enjoyed flexing his culinary skills and learning new ones.
“I started out as a Food Production Manager many years ago and in the past few years, I have been more focused on the culinary side of things,” he says. “Cooking is and has always been my passion, but at some jobs, my shifts in Hotels, restaurants, and also as a Private Chef have ranged from anywhere around 6 in the morning to as late as 10 at night. It’s been quite nice to be able to sit down with my wife and kids and have dinner and family time together for a change.”
Despite his restlessness as a young adult, Lee values his consistent schedule, which is a welcome change for someone with a culinary background. The most important thing to him is that he has time to spend with his family while having a steady job that excites him.
While Lee has enjoyed the nice work-life balance that Aramark provides, that hasn’t prevented him from capitalizing on career opportunities like the Aramark Culinary Excellence (ACE) competition.
“We were asked to enter a picture of a planned dish that I prepared and send it in with ingredients and recipe included. I made crispy polenta with shrimp and sauce and some garnishes. I went to Philadelphia for the first portion and I came second! Then I got selected to compete in Chicago and in that competition, I came third. In Chicago, it was a three-course menu. You had three hours to plan and prepare from a mystery basket and present and then we had a small cocktail party afterward.”
The ability to travel for prestigious events while also having the chance to spend quality time with his family stands out to Lee as an aspect he cherishes most about his career with Aramark. He hasn’t lost his sense of wanderlust, and now, it has become another thing he enjoys about his job and one more thing he gets to do with his family.
“My wife came out to Chicago with my kids and they spent a few days with me during the competition. And I got a little bit of downtime between the events. So yeah, that was good fun.”
Aramark has enabled Lee’s transition from a globetrotter to settled Hoosier while still providing avenues for him to travel and grow his career. No matter where his career takes him, he will continue to do great things and cook delicious food.
To learn more about what Lee enjoys about Aramark, check out the Q&A!
— Lee Chamberlain, Executive Chef
Hear more from our conversation with Dylan in the Q&A section below.
What drew you to work for Aramark?
I have young kids, and it was an enticing idea to work Monday through Friday. So that plays a lot into it. I like my schedule too so if I walk out of here after Saturday lunch, I'm not usually back until Tuesday. It is kind of nice to have a little three-and-a-half-day weekend!
How important is a steady schedule to you, especially in the culinary field?
Sometimes restaurants close late which means the potential to earn a lot more is out there. But it doesn't hold a value to me, once you are used to a certain schedule, like Monday through Friday. I think the restaurant industry is a challenge also, because, you know, lots of places have had troubles during the pandemic. So this has been another great thing that Aramark has done - maintaining the business during the pandemic.
Have you enjoyed the traveling aspect of your position?
I’ve enjoyed some of the travel that I've done with Aramark, like opening new accounts. You get to maintain a good relationship with the clients that way. I've heard even when people decide to leave for different companies, they still say Aramark has a great community. And of course, traveling for the ACE competition has been great.
How would you describe the culture at Aramark?
There is a strong focus on inclusion and diversity. And working in the kitchen you see different people, all sorts of people, working together. It feels like everyone has an equal opportunity to move forward or progress with their career. I learned from other managers and they have learned from me because you do run into them quite a bit.
What about working for Aramark is different from your experience with previous employers?
One example that stands out is when I had a personal issue and I told my boss. My dog was put down and my boss gave me several days off, and she insisted that I not work that weekend. So she covered me for that. I think that's a good part of the company which is the community and the support that we can give each other. Developing friendships and relationships and stuff like that has been the best part.