Campus News Campus Spotlight

Outlet chef brings culinary creations to the Georgia Center

Fred Chabra is the outlet chef at the University of Georgia Center for Continuing Education & Hotel. (Photo by Dorothy Kozlowski/UGA)

Fred Chabra finds the fun in experimenting with food

Fred Chabra’s culinary creations didn’t start in the kitchen. They started in his family’s seafood shop in Massachusetts, alongside his father, who has been a fish monger since the 1970s.

“From the time I was 8 years old, he’d bring me to work,” said Chabra, outlet chef at the University of Georgia Center for Continuing Education & Hotel. “I’ve been in food service my entire life.”

At 16, Chabra started washing dishes at a retirement home. The executive chef noticed his work ethic and put him on the line to cook. That same chef encouraged Chabra to attend Johnson & Wales University, where he earned an associate’s degree in culinary arts and a bachelor’s degree in culinary nutrition.

“Without Jim, I wouldn’t be doing this,” he said. “It turned into a career, and I’m thankful for that opportunity.”

Throughout his programs, Chabra continued to work in food service at various pizza parlors, pubs, taverns and country clubs. His culinary nutrition program required an internship, which brought him to Athens to work with the university’s football team. They frequently visited the Georgia Center, and he came to know the “white coats” working there. He was offered a full-time position and now serves as the Georgia Center’s outlet chef, managing the day-to-day kitchen operations of the hotel’s culinary retail areas like the Savannah Room and the Bulldog Bistro.

“I had to learn as I went. I was terrified to go to culinary school, but as they say, ‘Practice makes perfect.’ With enough repetition and putting time into your craft, you get there,” he said.

Chabra likes to be bold with his flavors and think outside the box—like a salad with shrimp, watermelon and feta cheese with lots of oregano. But he balances that with Georgia Center classics like celestial chicken and the Thai chicken salad.

As outlet chef, Chabra has a hand in creating menus for all of the Georgia Center’s hotel outlets. He’s also responsible for the back of the house and hires and trains people to work on the line. Additionally, he sells and helps his team prepare for banquets and other events at the Georgia Center.

“I like to think I lead by example. I hope I’m viewed as a team player by my kitchen staff. I’m not the kind of chef who isn’t present,” he said.

Fred Chabra, outlet chef at the Georgia Center, prepares food in the dining services kitchen. (Photo by Dorothy Kozlowski/UGA)

Chabra pays attention to the audiences he’s feeding and knows many of them want a balanced meal—a protein, starch, some vegetables and maybe a sauce. That interest in culinary nutrition stems from Chabra being an active person himself.

“You’ve got to be conditioned, and I’ve always believed that diet is a bigger priority than training,” he said.

Outside of work, Chabra goes to the gym regularly and also races dirt bikes, doing hare scrambles for two hours in the woods with 200 other racers. In fact, he recently moved up and competes at the C level. Chabra and his fiancée often spend time at the gym and hope to run a marathon together.

But Chabra is never too far from the kitchen. Whether it’s cooking at home or on the line, he finds the joy in cooking.

“Cooking brings me a lot of joy. I love doing it,” he said. “You get the opportunity, especially at a place like the Georgia Center, to think of a special, do some research, whip something up and have some fun with it. You get to be creative, you get to have fun, and you get to experiment. Of course, the best part is eating it after you’re done.”

And Chabra is happy to share his culinary secrets.

“Whatever I cook is free game. If you want my crispy Brussels sprout or my maple bourbon glaze recipes, I’ll be glad to tell you about it,” he said.