Senior chef Chloe Greenhalgh teaches a cooking class at the College of Veterinary Medicine.

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Cornell chef pursues opportunities for growth and learning

Chloe Greenhalgh has always been driven by a commitment to growth and lifelong learning. An avid traveler, she spent time living in Italy and visited Portugal and Spain. During this period of her life, she developed a love for Mediterranean cuisine.

“I enjoy acidic accents to food,” said Greenhalgh, a senior chef now in her 16th year with Cornell Dining. “I just love basic vegetables on a plate with a little bit of olive oil and lemon. I appreciate the simplicity and the fact you don’t have to do a lot to it to make it taste great.”

In 2021, Greenhalgh got her first opportunity to bring her passion for simple, nutritious meals to campus. While working to re-open Martha’s Café, which closed during the renovation of Martha Van Rensselaer Hall, Greenhalgh connected with a group of students who expressed their desire for healthier food options. To make menu items more approachable, Greenhalgh pulled from her culinary experiences travelling through Europe. The result was a revamped, plant-forward menu that featured Mediterranean-inspired grain salad bowls and wraps with a focus on fresh ingredients. 

“I knew I wanted to change things, listen to people, and bring a different approach to food so having that connection with the students was really fun,” said Greenhalgh. “We even had them help design the logo as part of a class. They played a part in all of this, and that’s exciting because they’re why we’re here. It’s great to get to work with students and grow with them.”

The daughter of a seamstress, she initially began her professional career in the fashion industry. Seeking more fulfillment than the family business could provide, she decided to take some time off to explore the world. It was during those travels that Greenhalgh developed a love for food and culture.

Greenhalgh eventually moved to the East Coast and studied pastry at the Connecticut Culinary Institute. After graduating, she worked several pastry jobs, including one at a friend’s restaurant in New Haven, Conn. where she helped create a dessert menu. Never one to shy away from a new experience, Greenhalgh soon pivoted and opened a deli.

“I didn’t grow up in a household that told me I couldn’t do anything,” said Greenhalgh. “You either do something or you don’t, but you just kept moving forward. So, I just kept going and didn’t ever let something or someone hold me back and persevered no matter what anybody said.”

While dedicated to pursuing her passion, Greenhalgh was forced to change course when she became pregnant with her son. Greenhalgh sold her successful deli just a year after opening and looked for new opportunities that would allow her to strike a better work-life balance in a more child-friendly environment. Having spent time in the Ithaca area years earlier while briefly attending the Finger Lakes School of Massage, she applied to an entry-level position with Cornell Dining in 2008.

“I worked in restaurants during high school and throughout my career,” said Greenhalgh. “I’ve done dishes, bussed tables, and even made pizza boxes. I was willing to do anything and for a while I just cooked French toast all day.”

Two months into her tenure, Greenhalgh seized on an opportunity and used her background as a trained pastry chef to prepare desserts for a series of specialty dinners. Soon Greenhalgh found herself making pastries for events at then-President David Skorton’s home and a wedding cake for an on-campus nuptial at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art. Those experiences opened the door to a full-time transition into Cornell Dining’s growing catering business.

Starting as a baker, Greenhalgh eventually became a sous chef. But despite climbing the ranks of the catering unit, Greenhalgh longed for more. When an opening for a chef position within Cornell Dining’s retail operation became available, she jumped at the chance.

“Pastry is my first love and I enjoy the artistry,” said Greenhalgh. “But as chefs we’re constantly learning every day and learning is an important part about being at a place like Cornell.” 

Greenhalgh’s first retail project was re-opening Martha’s. Next came a re-design of Mann Café. Then Greenhalgh turned her attention to Atrium Café in Sage Hall, where she wanted to highlight fresh, plant-based products once again, but this time with an Asian-inspired twist. Having grown in her years with the organization, Greenhalgh now manages three sous chefs and oversees four of Cornell Dining’s retail locations: Martha’s Café, Atrium Café, the College of Veterinary Medicine Café, and Trillium. She also works on the menus for Mattin’s Cafe, Cornell Dairy Bar, Café Jennie, and Franny’s Food Truck.

“Everybody has different palettes so I want to give everyone options where they can enjoy things that are simple or really strong and flavorful,” said Greenhalgh. “We have a diverse community, and we get to talk to people from different countries and see what they love about their food. Every family has their own style of cooking from their culture. I love seeing the differences and I like the idea of continuing to learn and not ever being an expert.”

Having been given the space to grow both professionally and personally, Greenhalgh has made it a point to pay it forward. She’s mentored several interns interested in baking. She’s partnered with various campus units, like the veterinary school, to offer cooking classes. She’s even co-lectured a food science course with Chris Loss, a professor with the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. While Greenhalgh’s journey to Cornell wasn’t linear, she built a community and found a home. And hopes others – especially other women – follow a similar path.

“I’m the only female senior chef at Cornell,” said Greenhalgh. “Only a small percentage of the industry is female and there are challenges that hold us back – like balancing long hours with motherhood – but it’s changing, and I know how much we have to give. I’ve felt a lot of support from our male chefs. I know I can go to them for anything, and they’ve always encouraged me to push for more. Cornell is a place that fosters inclusivity and connection and that’s why I’ve stayed.”

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