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New executive chef serving up leadership and community at EKU

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Posted at 7:43 AM, Oct 27, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-27 07:43:26-04

RICHMOND, Ky. (LEX 18) — A love of food has always been a part of James Duran’s life.

A passion cooked up since he was a kid.

“I always had a desire to be in the kitchen with my mom and cook and learn from her,” Duran said.

Duran learned enough to carve out a career in the culinary world.

A native of Los Angeles County, California, Duran’s journey in Kentucky started eight years ago.

He spent time with Marriott leading to an opportunity to cook for the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team.

After two years feeding the Wildcats, Duran accepted his current position as executive chef at Eastern Kentucky University.

“I’m heavily involved in the dining hall. Overseeing the menus and management here,” Duran said.

“I like interacting with the student body and seeing how I can elevate the program here.”

Duran took this new role in April 2022, bringing with him a new chef prestige.

The chef recently received ProChef Level III certification from the Culinary Institute of America.

It’s the highest level of certification from the institute which, according to Duran, follows multiple nominations and days of testing to ensure the certification is warranted.

“Each level is multiple days, going over varied topics on each level. You go over financials, you go over management, you go over multiple types of cuisines. They want to make sure the person is committed to getting the certifications,” Duran said.

Duran’s leadership skills have shown through early on in his career as a Colonel, which his coworkers are backing up.

“A lot of my programs do go through the residential dining hall so I have to work really closely with James,” Eastern Kentucky Dining sustainability manager Erin Hafner said.

“Since he’s come here, it’s made my job a lot easier. I’ve been able to implement two really large programs in the last year that I don’t think would be possible without his leadership.”

One of those programs was a food donation project that, thanks in part to Duran, has collected 2,000 pounds of food since this summer for local food pantries.

“He was able to help us get everything set up. He was able to train his employees to get everything ready. I haven’t been here that long so this guy starting after me, I saw he was going to be the guy to get it done and so far he has,” Hafner said.

In honest reflection, Duran can’t believe he’s made it to where he is now and as quickly as he’s done it.

“I did not think I would be here with the certifications and the title that I have. When I started I figured an achievement like this would come in my mid 50’s,” Duran said.

“My goal here right now is to take what we have and try to elevate it to a higher level within the means that we have.”