Thomas Keslinke – Cofounder and CEO of Chef’s Roll

Posted by Nilly Gucum

There are a variety of brilliant chefs out there, creating wonders in the kitchen and producing mouthwatering recipes for the world to enjoy. Imagine a community that harvests all that talent in one location!

Thomas Keslinke Cofounder and CEO of Chef’s Roll
Photo: Thomas Keslinke

Chef’s Roll was formed to solve one of the biggest obstacles that creative types have always dreaded: self-promotion. Cofounders Thomas Keslinke and Frans van der Lee developed their network-based website for chefs and other foodservice professionals who don’t have the time and resources needed to showcase their skills.

Since establishing the LinkedIn-like platform in 2013, they have quickly grown this network to more than 3,400 international chefs, expanded their program and created numerous opportunities for their members.

With more than 15 years of experience in restaurants, hotels, marketing and consulting, Thomas Keslinke has shed some light on his journey to form this oasis for foodies around the world.

Please tell us a little about the journey you had prior to Chef's Roll.

Thomas: Prior to Chef's Roll - and after earning my degree in hospitality management, I began my professional career on the islands of Grand Cayman and St. Croix (US Virgin Islands), successfully opening and running several restaurants. I then relocated to Washington, DC, and began working for the famed Willard Intercontinental Hotel where I focused my energy on managing F&B in a fine-dining environment catering to high-profile clients. Later, I began working for Deloitte and Touche's largest North American office, where I helped run a $42 million hospitality program while working closely with senior executives to ensure flawless execution.

How did you first come up with the concept/idea of Chef's Roll as a global community?

Thomas: Frans and I were working in his home office, which interestingly was under his garage. In California a lot of houses are built on hills, and down the face of them, so at his house, he had a guest room/office under the garage. Frans and I had started our first company which was focused on branding and marketing, and building websites - I was talking with a prospective client one morning about building a website for his business (he was a chef) and his name was also Tom - our 15-minute conversation turned into a 90 minute one, leaving me with a crazy thought. I ran the idea by Frans and over the course of an hour or so of brainstorming we had come to the point where we wanted to build a chef focused network - first it started out we would build personal websites, or profiles, for chefs, but why stop there? Why not connect them and build a global network? So, we did.

What are some of the issues you strive to solve with the help of this community you created?

Thomas: The ability to self-promote their passion - showcase their skills and craft, and through the power of community, build on their careers.

What are some of the challenges you face in this unique organization?

Thomas: Responsiveness :) The industry is very demanding, leaving chefs little time for much else outside of their craft.

For Chef’s Roll, we also face the challenge of working with clients who may see another community member as their "competition" or competitor, which for us makes it challenging to ensure we run programs that differentiate each chef and represent them equally. We are building a business, and want to always ensure we keep our clients as happy as we can at all times and all costs.

Could you tell us about the opportunities you've developed over the years through Chef’s Roll?

Thomas: We created programs which allow us to share to a global audience the passion and techniques chefs possess in kitchens both indoor and outdoor. It is paving the way for chefs to get noticed, to be either invited to appear on a TV show, or in a print/digital publication, a job interview, brand ambassadors and more. Chef's Roll is about offering a professional atmosphere to showcase your career, to be inspired, inspire others, educate and learn - bringing together chefs and culinary professionals from all over the world creates a special platform where camaraderie is automatic.

What do you hope for Chef's Roll to accomplish in the long run?

Thomas: We have many hopes and dreams, some are much closer to reality than we could have ever imagined (you will have to wait and see for those :) but for now, to become a household "kitchen" name would be rewarding. To be the place chefs all over the world automatically go to for inspiration, knowledge, opportunity and more, would be something we could smile at and feel damn proud of.

Describe one of your most memorable dining experiences – where were you and what made it so special?

Thomas: I’ve had the pleasure of dining all over the world, in more than 50+ countries, and have had meals I can still taste, but for me, the experience I had at Eleven Maddison Park in NY was unforgettable. I was with my wife, and during our meal, we were approached by the Maître D' asking us to follow. We were lead into the kitchen where Chef Daniel Humm was waiting. He greeted us with a handshake then a hug and he then stood next to us for about 15 minutes while we were watching in awe his world-famous kitchen operate. He helped us make "adult" snow cones from an old world device - and even let me call out an order on the line - at EMP!!!! It was truly epic, and the meal of course was fantastic :)

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