Meet Chef Debbie Kopf: Beyond the Plate Bronze Winner

Published on : 10/17/23
    • Chef-Debbie-Kopf_500x500.jpgYears of service with Sodexo: 35 years
    • Location: Nova Scotia
    • Segment: Campus
    • Role: Sous-chef


    Chef Debbie Kopf is a sous chef at a university campus in Nova Scotia and is the Bronze Winner of the 2023 Beyond the Plate Challenge. She has been with Sodexo for over 35 years.

    During the Beyond the Plate nomination period, we saw stories of those who stand out, not just for their exceptional skills, but also for their commitment to their craft and teams. Chef Debbie Kopf’s journey is one such story.


    An Impressive Career Growth

    Chef Debbie’s career began at just 15, working part-time in the kitchen. Initially uncertain about her post-high school plans, she continued in a full-time position until she figured it out. What began as a temporary job soon turned into a lifelong career in the culinary field. 

    Over the years, Chef Debbie diligently climbed the culinary ladder, moving through various roles, including working in the dish room, as a short-order cook and eventually leading the international classics grill, honing skills and knowledge. Her growth was gradual but steadfast, and her leadership qualities shone through.

    In 2007, her manager recognized her potential and offered her the opportunity to pursue a Red Seal Certification “I said sure [I’ll go to school] but I cannot not work,” she recalls telling him. Thankfully, the Red Seal program is set up for on-the-job apprenticeships with online modules. So, despite her demanding 70-hour work weeks and her responsibilities as a parent, Chef Debbie enrolled. 

    “It was very hard, but I enjoyed it,” she recalls. “I like to learn new things. I was trying to better myself so I could do a better job.”

    In May 2010, her determination paid off as she proudly earned her Red Seal — two years ahead of schedule — thanks to the support from her mentor, Chef Pollock, who led the kitchen at the time. Sodexo played a pivotal role in facilitating her training, allowing her to balance online modules, practicals and chef signoffs.

    Chef Debbie's tenacity and commitment fueled this journey from a part-time gig as a teenager to the respected sous chef she is today.

    Leading Through Challenges

    Chef Debbie's leadership during a challenging period without an executive chef speaks volumes about her dedication and high expectations for herself. She vividly recalls this time as an arduous and demanding phase. "When you have to do it, you just do it,” she asserted.

    During this period, she shouldered additional responsibilities, such as assisting with ordering and menu planning — helping her manager navigate unfamiliar territories. Catering events, including a prestigious economics forum, brought added pressure, but she wasn't alone in this endeavour. “If I didn't have my team, it would be very hard,” she recognizes. “But there are a lot of good workers that go above and beyond every day.”

    Meanwhile, when Hurricane Fiona made landfall in Nova Scotia and her campus, Chef Debbie took control. With the power grid down and limited resources at their disposal, she ensured the kitchen could continue operating smoothly and serve thousands of students in need of food and shelter. Chef Debbie’s quick thinking and resilience were evident as she juggled limited equipment, prepared meals under extraordinary circumstances and ensured that the team worked together efficiently.

    Hurricane Fiona was a test of not only Chef Debbie's culinary skills but also her leadership qualities. Despite the overwhelming challenges, her commitment never wavered.

    Going Beyond the Plate

    Chef-Debbie-Vegan-Burger.jpgChef Debbie is known for her leadership within the kitchen. Her daily routine is marked by effective delegation and a dedication to ensuring her team's well-being. Her approach to leadership emphasizes teamwork and the smooth execution of tasks, minimizing last-minute surprises and ensuring that everyone has their fair share of responsibilities.

    And her work extends beyond the kitchen and into the community — she runs the Meals on Wheels program five days a week out of her unit, preparing specialized meals for elderly clients. Chef Debbie also stepped outside her comfort zone when she contributed a vegan burger recipe to the Imagine Cookbook, candidly admitting that seeing her own recipe in a cookbook was a surreal experience. 

    “I used to look at these cookbooks and say, ‘Oh my God, he's a good cook, he's a chef,’” she says, humbly. “And now, I’m in one of those books!”

    Receiving the Bronze title was an unexpected honour for Chef Debbie. Her humility was apparent as she confessed her surprise when her name was announced. “I was floored,” she says with a chuckle. “Floored and speechless. For once in my life. This never happens!” 
    As Chef Debbie looks to the future, one thing remains clear: she has no intention of leaving anytime soon. With 35 years of experience under her belt and nearly a decade to go before retirement, she embodies the spirit of hard work and determination that has allowed her to break barriers and excel in a historically male-dominated field. Her story is a reminder that success comes to those who are willing to work relentlessly, push boundaries and persevere through challenges.

    Read more inspiring stories from our team.