Portrait of chef Kenneth Webster

Meet Chef Kenneth Webster: Beyond the Plate Gold Winner

Published on : 10/19/23
    • ChefKenneth-BeyondthePlate_500x500.jpgYears of service with Sodexo: 15 years
    • Location: Ontario
    • Segment: Corporate Services
    • Role: Executive Chef / General Manager

    Chef Kenneth Webster, aka Chef Ken, is the executive chef and general manager at the corporate office of a global tech company in the greater Toronto area and is the Gold Winner of the 2023 Beyond the Plate Challenge. He has been with Sodexo for 15 years.

    We created the Beyond the Plate Challenge to highlight the talented chefs who make up our Sodexo culinary world. Amongst the dozens of nominees, Chef Ken stood out, not only for his undeniable skills, but also for his adaptability and creativity, and his unyielding dedication to his team and the environment.

    From Teenage Cook to Executive Chef

    Chef Ken’s career began when he was just 15 years old, working as a prep cook in a small Italian restaurant in Uptown Toronto. The experience developed his taste for the industry, drawing him into the vibrant world of fine dining. Over the years, Chef Ken navigated through the intricate landscape of the culinary world, with roles in a multitude of establishments, including fine dining restaurants and even a significant event center in downtown Toronto. 

    His early experiences in fine dining restaurants set the stage for a promising career. But life in the fast-paced restaurant world can be demanding. “You really have to give your life to that restaurant,” he recalls. “It’s good when you're young. But I saw where my life was going if I stayed in that world. So, I quickly jumped ship in my mid-20s.”

    It was his desire for a better work-life balance that led him to Sodexo, where he’s been a driving force for over 15 years.

    Chef Ken’s first role at Sodexo was as a sous chef in a downtown Toronto investment banking firm. As he progressed within the company, he held key positions in various Sodexo-run establishments, including roles as general manager and executive chef. His latest chapter places him as an influential culinary leader in workplace food culture.


    Bringing a Diversity of Events to Life

    Chef-Kenneth-pizza_500x300.jpgChef Ken's role at Sodexo, and specifically in his unit, is dynamic and multi-faceted. He spearheads food menu development, a task that keeps the menu constantly evolving to meet his clients' expectations. Chef Ken also oversees the planning and execution of extensive events and catering services for his clients. 

    What truly sets Chef Ken apart is his commitment to hands-on involvement. Despite his high-level position, he remains deeply connected to the heart of the kitchen. “Being a chef at the core, I still love to spend time in the kitchen”, he says with enthusiasm. 

    His team’s diverse services range from weekly evening dinner parties, accommodating groups as large as 150 to more intimate gatherings of 10 to 20. From live-action cooking stations to oyster shucking and display cooking, he consistently delivers innovative and creative dining encounters. 

    “That’s one of the reasons why I love working at this location,” he says. “It’s the amount of variety that we have with our events.”

    Navigating the Pandemic and Keeping the Company Culture Alive

    Chef-Kenneth-Live_500x400.jpgChef Ken and his team’s ingenious response to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic not only kept the culinary spirit alive but also fostered community engagement. 

    When the world hit pause and the offices closed, Chef Ken organized a series of live cooking events for his client’s expansive community, spanning over 2,500 individuals across North America. The events featured live cooking demonstrations broadcast from his location, and employees eagerly tuned in, participating in the preparation of meals, with Chef Ken guiding them every step of the way.

    “It was actually a lot of fun,” he recalls with a chuckle. “It took me totally out of my comfort zone, which is great!”

    Aside from live events, Chef Ken established a virtual presence through "Chef's Corner" on his client’s internal website. He self-videotaped and shared recipes, amassing an impressive collection of over 160 instructional videos. The content ranged from funnel cakes to sous-vide grilled octopus and encompassed both nutritional and indulgent options, thanks to the collaboration with a nutritionist colleague. 

    Despite the prolonged shutdown of the office due to the company's shift to remote work, Chef Ken's videos served as a bridge to maintain client engagement. It enabled him to stay connected with the community, fostering a robust relationship between Sodexo and its clients. Chef Ken's adaptability and the team's resilience played an integral role in navigating the changes and emerging stronger in the post-pandemic corporate landscape.


    Committing to Sustainable and Diverse Kitchen Operations

    Chef Ken's approach to diversity and sustainability embodies a commitment to both his culinary team and the environment. He embraces diversity by engaging with various community groups within the company. This engagement has led to themed days, weeks, and months celebrating the rich heritage of different cultures. Chef Ken collaborates with employees hailing from all over the world, including the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and South America. Their diverse backgrounds inspire dishes that not only cater to different tastes but also serve as a cultural exchange, reinforcing the connection between food and heritage.

    “It's a great way [for] my team to share their culture and their food, cause so much of culture and heritage comes back to the kitchen,” he points out.

    In terms of sustainability, Chef Ken and his team have championed eco-friendly practices within Sodexo's culinary operations. But the best way to stay sustainable?  “Offering more plant-based options.” His daily menu features at least two completely plant-based options. He credits the diversity of his team and the client’s workforce. “We have a lot of consumers of Southeast Asian heritage who request vegetarian options,” he points out. “So, it is easy to feature a lot of plant-based dishes.” These dishes cater to an array of dietary preferences and embrace a more environmentally conscious approach.


    Looking Ahead

    Reflecting on this recognition as the Gold Winner for 2023, Chef Ken expressed gratitude for the acknowledgment and highlighted the honour it brings, given the competitive culinary talent within the organization. “When I saw the list of people [nominated]… wow! It’s a big honour to be at the top. It means a lot.”

    As for the future, we catch a glimpse at the path that lies ahead. While content with his current work-life balance and proximity to home as he prepares for a growing family (his second child is on the way!), he envisions a future full of possibilities.

    He reflects on his love for supporting other units within Sodexo, a role he's embraced over the last decade. From working on building culinary programs to conducting tastings for clients, Chef Ken thrives on the challenge of seeing new accounts and contributing to their kitchen organization and menu development.

    “It's always a give and take whenever I'm part of [these projects]. So, I guess if I had aspirations, it would just be to do what I do here on a bigger scale.”

    Discover more stories about the Sodexo experience.