New Pitt Dining executive chef breaks culinary glass ceiling


Photo courtesy of Compass Group

Danielle Gallaway is senior executive chef for Compass Group, Pitt’s new dining contractor.

By Diana Velasquez, Senior Staff Writer

A chef can be anybody, but if you asked someone on the street to name a famous chef, you’d probably get answers like Gordon Ramsay or Bobby Flay — a loud, bombacious man who’s making a scene in some hundred-thousand-dollar kitchen on TV.

But women like Danielle Gallaway have made their own space in the food service industry. Gallaway is senior executive chef for Compass Group, Pitt’s new dining contractor, and is in charge of all the meals at all the dining halls on campus. She has also been in the food industry since she was 15.

According to Gallaway, her love of food stemmed out of a cooking class she had taken when she was young — about 7 or 8 years old. She said she struggled with dyslexia, and cooking was meant to serve as an outlet for it.

“It was recommended that they give me some easy children’s cookbooks because it had fractions and it was an activity,” Gallaway said. “So I was introduced to the kitchen as a sort of therapy at first.”

She said she fell in love with the art of cooking from there, attending culinary school at Johnson and Wales University in Charleston, South Carolina. According to Gallaway, she has worked all over the industry from peeling shrimp at a high-end seafood restaurant as a novice to working at Marriott hotels.

But only recently had she found Compass Group, and through them, Pitt.

Gallaway said one of her favorite things about working for Pitt is having access to the local farms and foods from the region, which she tries to bring into daily dining hall meals.

“The things I get really excited about, like food sustainability and fresh local foods from small farmers, are things the Pitt community is also excited about,” Gallaway said. “It was just a good fit and I can not be more excited to be a part of this campus.”

Lauren Klinefelter, another powerhouse in the kitchen at Pitt, is the director of catering at the Petersen Events Center. She said her job — which combines her love of food with sports and other big events — isn’t easy, but she loves mentoring incoming employees.

“I have taught myself to be organized, and you have to be to keep your ducks in a row with this job, but I truly love what I do,” Klinefelter said. “My goal is to mentor and guide my team to do better and excel in their positions.”

Gallaway, like Klinefelter, said although she loves her job, it’s easy for chefs to come into the industry and burn out — especially young women. She said aspiring female chefs need to love what they do and keep their options open for different possibilities in the industry.

“Like any work, you need a passion for what you do or you will quickly burn out,” she said. “I loved fine dining early in my career, but as my family needs changed, having a degree allowed me to pivot into different kinds of roles that shaped my career.”

These days, it’s still rare to find a woman at the head of a dining operation, whether it be a high-end restaurant or a simple food truck. But Gallaway said things are much better than they were 20 years ago when she was first starting out.

Klinefelter experienced this kind of hostile environment as well. She said this “fear”-based system of learning that men of the industry pushed on her and others wasn’t conducive to anyone’s success.

“I grew up in this business by fear. It was the old-school way. No meeting in the middle,” Klinefelter said. “I don’t work that way and I always knew that I wanted to lead by teaching and leading and not by scaring people.”

The industry has come a long way, and more and more women are emerging into leadership positions in food service and in the restaurant industry, Klinefelter said. But she added that women still have to be tenacious about their work.

Having a good mentor to guide you through it all helps, she said. But more than anything, women have to be ready to jump at opportunities others won’t and find a way to think outside the box while they’re in the kitchen.

“Find a good mentor and listen to them closely, become family,” Klinefelter said. “Don’t be afraid to jump in and do something you have never done before. All of your hard work will pay off.”

According to Gallaway, she especially faced problems early in her career with men in the industry who thought she was unqualified to do the job. But she said being innovative and solving problems better than they could helped her stand out as a chef.

“When the men in my work group would grumble and complain because a request was too hard or took too much work, I would run with it and make it amazing,” Gallaway said. “That’s how women in this industry had to be to survive.”