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Meet the man behind the menu: Tim Gump

Tim Gump

ISU Executive Chef Tim Gump.

After overseeing the preparation of as many as 14,000 meals daily, you’d think the last thing ISU Executive Chef Tim Gump would want to tackle when he gets home is dinner. You’d be wrong.

“I do every bit of the cooking,” he said of the meals he makes for his wife and 7-year-old daughter. His menu is likely to be what Gump calls “good simple food,” from roasted chicken to a tender steak or plump burger. “My wife and daughter do the hard part, cleaning the kitchen.” So does he ever do something really simple, like macaroni and cheese?

“Never,” he said. “The only time my wife and daughter have macaroni and cheese is when I’m not home. There is something in this little brain of mine that just thinks macaroni and cheese is so, so wrong,” he said, with a laugh.

Gump ended up at Illinois State because he left early from a cocktail party he was cohosting while at a Toronto national food conference. He shuttled back to the hotel and sat across from Susan Jones, senior associate director of Campus Dining Services. When she asked what he did, he told her he was the corporate chef for U.S. Foodservice. She told him the University was looking for an executive chef.

That was about four years ago. Now he works with Registered Dietitian Dianne Feasley to plan 28-day menus that’ll please the sweet-loving palates of students—whether serving up tuna with Jamaican corn relish or a pan of Snickers brownies. His signature dish is chilled cavatappi marinara salad and roasted sausage with grilled red peppers and onions.

If his parents could have influenced his career, Gump wouldn’t have stepped foot in a kitchen. His father hoped he’d be a doctor, lawyer, or engineer. But the boy who started sweeping restaurant parking lots in Ohio at age 5 couldn’t stay away from stainless steel counters. At 13 he began an apprenticeship at a Marriott hotel in Cleveland, and eventually became the youngest certified chef in America.  His food service career has included restaurants, hotels, and cruise lines.

Today Gump is dealing with a different guest, one that might want a spicier buffalo chicken, which is why it’s not uncommon to find him taste-testing popcorn chicken at 8 a.m. It’s the challenge of perfecting recipes guaranteed to please the palate that makes the job rewarding for Gump, who is “very proud to be a chef.”

TIM’S SHOPPING LIST

Campus dining serves approximately 14,000 meals a day, with about 6,400 students on the residential meal plan and 1,200 off-campus students. Each month dining goes through:

  • 31,000 chocolate chip cookies
  • 21,000 bagels
  • 21,000 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 10,000 pizzas
  • 7,200 pounds of bananas
  • 7,000 gallons of milk
  • 6,000 pounds of mozzarella cheese
  • 5,000 pounds of red grapes
  • 5,500 pounds of romaine lettuce
  • 5,600 quarts of strawberries
  • 5,200 pounds of lettuce/carrots/red cabbage mix
  • 3,000 pounds of chicken tenders
  • 2,500 pounds of tempura chicken
  • 700 gallons of Alfredo sauce

 

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