At a young age, Chris Aquilino wanted to know how things worked, how to break them apart and rebuild them. This natural drive and curiosity spurred his desire to explore art, more specifically, sculpting. Through this medium, he learned the creative process and how to manipulate a raw ingredient into something he could truly identify with. As Aquilino grew up, he applied his creative talents to the kitchen, shifting his medium of choice to food, instead of clay.
While it may be a disconnect to some, to Aquilino, the parallel between art and food is clear. “Whether it’s clay, paint or food, the creative goal is usually the same — to make something beautiful that affects someone’s mood, to really intersect with people in a more powerful and emotional way,” he says.
Now, as the corporate executive chef of Envision Group, a division of Compass Group, the world’s largest foodservice corporation, Aquilino has the ability to do just that. While he still practices the same artistic passion as he did when he was a fine arts major and owner of a high-end catering business, through his work at Compass Group, he can affect greater change on the lives of people everywhere.
How, you may ask? He was first recruited by Compass Group to be the catering director for a local hospital where he was in charge of developing the meal plans for patients, tasked with the challenge of creating flavorful, nutrient-dense food with smooth, easy-to-digest textures.
“I learned that through this work, I can support people who need help with what they are eating, what they are putting in their bodies,” says Aquilino. “But I didn’t have to compromise my artistic integrity to do so. For me, it is just as important to produce a nutritious, healthy meal as it is to present a restaurant-quality dish that patients can really savor and enjoy.”
Much like an artist, a chef needs the proper tools to execute a masterpiece; the plate is his canvas. When it comes to developing rich flavor, complex textures and inspired presentations, one kitchen tool always helped bring Aquilino’s visions to life.
“I use my Vitamix blender to create velvety, luxurious sauces and vinaigrettes that don’t just add to the dish — somehow they make it more profound, unique, delicate and complex, all at the same time.”
Aquilino continues, “Not only that, but the speed and power of the blender also allows me to create speed scratch dishes for modified texture diets, giving patients whole foods and nutrients rather than preformed items full of preservatives, dyes and gelatin.”
Applying these thoughtful methods to his menus, he quickly rose through the health care ranks, eventually running 25 hospitals as the director of culinary with 45 chefs who reported directly to him.
“That’s the moment in my career where I realized the critical change and impact I could have on the lives around me,” adds Aquilino.
In addition to nourishing the minds and bodies of patients under his team’s care, Aquilino also has the opportunity to support Compass Group’s goal to tackle another important, and global, topic: food waste.
At Compass Group, chefs like Aquilino are encouraged and empowered to work more sustainably, coming together to satisfy the organization’s commitment to reduce 25% of its food waste by 2020, and a long-term commitment to reduce 50% of its food waste by 2030. From harvesting and producing to purchasing and portioning, Compass Group is dedicated to the cause from beginning to end.
Throughout his culinary journey, Aquilino works to reduce food waste in his kitchens, relying heavily on Vitamix blenders, specifically the Vitamix XL and Vita-Prep, to get the job done. He attributes the blenders’ durability and versatility as the key to root-to-stem culinary applications.
“Utilizing the power of the unit to blend stalks, stems and sometimes even shells of items gives them life in a dish versus tossing them in the trash,” says Aquilino of his asparagus stem pesto and broccoli stalk chimichurri.
As Aquilino demonstrates, there are small steps chefs can take immediately toward reducing food waste -- steps that also promote wellness and culinary creativity. Apply new cutting and prepping techniques. Develop creative menu options using leftover produce, or typically unused parts of produce. Determine a plan to use scraps in composting.
If you want to achieve better-for-you dishes or explore zero-waste cooking, Vitamix Commercial equipment can help. Or, learn how others like Aquilino have put their purpose into practice: Chef Evan Hanczor, Chef Alejandra Schrader and Chef Joey Ward.