Executive Chef, Centerplate
As the Executive Chef for Centerplate, Desiree Neal oversees the culinary operation for all 500,000 square feet of meeting and event space at the Virginia Beach Convention Center. She and her team are responsible for feeding groups as intimate as five people and as grand as 30,000. Having worked her way through the ranks, it’s a job that Chef Desiree doesn’t take for granted and enjoys every day.
In the second half of 2020, Chef Desiree helped open the new 285,000 square foot Virginia Beach Sports Center with menu development, menu costing and identifying equipment needs to run the culinary operation. The facility is adjacent to the convention center and hosts multiple sporting events for thousands of athletes coming to Virginia Beach for indoor track, basketball, volleyball, and a number of other sports.
A native of Seattle, Washington, Desiree Neal found her calling in the kitchen when her father introduced her to cooking so that she could help with the responsibilities at home. She later received her first cookbook and began sharpening her skills from there. By age 15, she was ready to tackle larger meals and successfully prepared Thanksgiving dinner for her family. To this very day, she enjoys the challenges that come with feeding the masses.
Chef Desiree began her culinary career during high school working as a dietary aide in a nursing home kitchen. After graduation, she worked in catering, as a restaurant line cook, and as a breakfast chef at the Holiday Inn Executive Center. During the 2006 holiday season, she applied to the Virginia Beach Convention Center as a part time meat carver where she’s now stayed for over fifteen years.
At the Convention Center, Chef Desiree has worked as a prep cook, garde manger chef, production chef, and executive sous chef. In 2011, she won the National Tourism Week Hospitality Employee award. Her hard work and dedication to the team was recognized when she was named Executive Chef of the Convention Center in April 2017.
Chef Desiree’s favorite part of her job with Centerplate has been travelling to work events at other Centerplate venues. The most memorable moment of her career so far was cooking for President Barack Obama at the 2013 Presidential Inauguration. She listened to the president give his first speech and then helped to cut and serve the cake. It was an experience she’ll never forget.
Chef Desiree is constantly inspired by the variety of guests that visit the Convention Center. She enjoys learning new recipes and creating custom menus for special events. She considers every day at work to be a new adventure and always makes sure to let her staff know how much she appreciates their hard work.
In June of 2019, Chef Desiree obtained her Associates of Applied Science in Advanced Culinary Arts from Stratford University. She serves as the guest Chef at Wave Church’s Thanksgiving Extravaganza yearly, where she prepares a holiday dish to serve to the guests when they pick up their Thanksgiving baskets. She also works with the Foodbank of Southeastern Hampton Roads to donate food to Saint Mary’s Church in Norfolk.
As Executive Chef, Desiree…
- Champions Centerplate’s food, beverage and service excellence philosophy throughout all daily sales and operations
- Creates and executes high quality, innovative menus for Catering, Retail and Off Premise Special Events (as permitted by the Center’s Executive Director) capitalizing on local/regional market trends and guests’ cultural and dietary preferences
- Negotiates and implements purchasing agreements with local supplied partners
- Costs all menus; executes strategies to meet food cost allocations
- As requested, creates customized menu proposals tailored to event hosts’ preferences and specifications
- Interacts with the Center’s sales team to support RFP submissions in earning future business via specialty menu proposal development
- Together with the Center, supports hospitality industry events
- Leads taste panels, documents/photographs final selections
- Meets with department heads to plan and coordinate efforts for scheduled functions
- Conducts daily quality audits to ensure production of high-quality food
- Interacts with event hosts and guests to ensure their delight with culinary offerings
- Analyzes operational structure to ensure profitability of culinary operations through cost controls
- Ensures consistent, accurate inventory
- Responsible for staff hiring, evaluation, recognition, and corrective actions
- Maintains growth within staff, and health and safety standards of operation
- Effectively communicates and monitors all policies and procedures governing daily business conduct and compliance with these policies