An interview with Nicole Charbonneau, chief, Culinary and Hospitality Services, U.S. Army, San Antonio Military Medical Center

For a complete list of FE&S's Future Foodservice Leaders see The Future Is Now.

Name: Nicole Charbonneau
Company: United States Army; San Antonio Military Medical Center
Title: Chief, Culinary and Hospitality Services
Age: 34
Industry involvement: AHF – Education Committee
Years in foodservice: 11.5 years in the army; five years in professional foodservice
Educational background: Masters of Science in Clinical Nutrition, Central Michigan University; Bachelor of Science in Food and Nutrition, Montana State University

What's the most important lesson you have learned?
I have learned to hold everyone accountable for their actions. This was a hard lesson for me to learn because I want to give everyone the benefit of the doubt.

What's the best career advice you have been given?
Don't have a plan. If you work hard, opportunities will come to you. In high school, I remember writing that I planned to get a PhD and teach. I am so thankful that life did not turn out how I had planned.

What makes you want to stay in the industry?
My employees. As an Army dietitian we have the opportunity to work in multiple practice areas. After working in foodservice for three years, I had a two-year assignment as a clinical dietitian. While I enjoyed helping my patients to meet their goals, I missed the relationships that I formed with my staff. The Culinary and Hospitality team is a very large family. We come together three times a day every day, including holidays, to make sure that our patients and patrons have a warm meal to nourish their bodies and souls. I love hearing staff tell me about their experiences, their families at home, their after-work events, and their children's sports events. I have the privilege of working with some of the best army civilians in the world.

What attracted you to the industry?
Every day is different. Have you ever had a day when the bread fails to rise, the point of sale goes down, the lines get long, and the day is still young? Those are the days that the team pulls together to make magic happen. That bread is now some bread pudding, the point of sale is now cash only, the lines allow us to meet some new people, and the day is so young we can get some more stuff done! Working in this industry means you have to think on your feet. I love it!

Describe the biggest challenge you have overcome.
Leaving my two-year-old son during a deployment to Iraq was tough. When I got back he was talking in sentences. Since then, he has grown a bit and understands my commitment to the army. He even wants to be a soldier someday too.

What excites you most about the foodservice industry?
As a personal trainer and dietitian, I am excited that we are moving to delicious, healthy foods with beautiful presentation. Gone are the days of cardboard tasting rice cakes. Today's customers are looking for the lean proteins, abundant vegetables and fruits, and whole grains to compliment their healthy lifestyles. I have the ability to give our patrons the chance to make the healthy choices that I could only educate them on as a clinician. It is wonderful to see a former Brussels sprout hater change their tune, even if they do add some cheese to those sprouts.