Behind the Scenes With Chef Bob

In the main kitchen at Chrysalis, chef Bob Coffman serves a cue from the family farmhouse where he prepares meals for up to 60 students and staff. “My mom was a firm believer in everything from scratch,” he says a few minutes before the lunchtime crowd arrives, as he simultaneously crisps bacon, stirs two soups and assembles what must be at least twelve feet of stuffed baguette sandwiches.

At Chrysalis, Bob puts together a menu with a focus on health and freshness, while keeping costs down by buying whole foods. Fresh fruit is always available in Chrysalis houses. Every lunch Bob serves includes an enormous green salad with at least one or two homemade dressings. Most dinners offer a salad as well, and usually another vegetable dish, whether that’s green beans topped with almonds or a colorful ratatouille. Bob’s goal is to minimize the number “of boxes or cans poured out,” he says, and though it takes more knife work, that approach pays off in flavor and health.

Not only does Bob singlehandedly cook lunch for five dozen every weekday, he also makes breakfast in one of the residential houses every morning, plans menus for staff-prepared dinners in every house, and stocks each of the four kitchens across campus – all while taking into account a litany of food allergies, dietary needs and preferences. Every meal includes lactose-free and vegetarian options, and Bob says that cooking a dish that the students at Chrysalis enjoy feels like pleasing his own daughters.

“I care about what they like,” he says. “I see myself and my job as, I work for the girls.”

Bob took his first restaurant job at age 14, and he’s been cooking ever since, with a short break for a stint at a well-drilling operation. “It wasn’t me,” he says. “I’ve always been been a kitchen guy.”

Though he’d wanted to go to culinary school since he was a teenager, Bob says that idea was too far out of the ordinary for the agricultural community and family where he grew up. At 27, he finally got the chance to follow his dream, and more than two decades later, he still loves food.

“I like the smell, I like the taste, I like the appreciation you can glean from giving someone a good meal, I like how the kitchen is a social gathering place,” he says.

Having been at Chrysalis for over a year, Bob occasionally misses the walk-in cooler space of a restaurant kitchen, but he wouldn’t trade in the family time and job satisfaction he enjoys now. Before coming to Chrysalis, Bob says he was never off on holidays and never home at night, living the “opposite schedule from my spouse and girls.” Now he gets to spend more time with his wife of nearly 23 years, elementary teacher Lori, as well as daughters Madison, 17, and Izzy, 11.

“I love my job here,” Bob says of Chrysalis. “I feel like we’re building lives.”