Chef Waldron Kelly’s career is like a bowl of soup – built one ingredient at a time, then simmered to create a hearty blend that stirs the senses.
Waldron is a familiar sight to hungry patrons at the UCF College of Medicine Café, slicing pizza fresh out of a brick oven, dishing up tasty mushroom and three-cabbage stew or plating crisply coated pieces of tilapia.
Always looking for new ways to incorporate healthful food into his cooking, Waldron attended the inaugural Minority Chef Summit in Jacksonville Beach in January for minority chefs from across the nation.
Waldron said a hot topic at the conference was the local foods movement. Proponents say locally grown produce is more healthful because it’s grown with few chemicals and reduces carbon emissions because food travels a shorter distance from farm to plate. “Local produce is so important because we can see how it’s grown,” he said.
Inspired, Waldron bought butternut squash from a Clermont farm and turned its nourishing goodness into the café’s soup of the day. He said he wants to use more produce from local farms; incorporate more healthful nuts, such as walnuts, into dishes; and offer freshly squeezed orange juice at the café.
“I’m always thinking of flavor and health. I’ve converted a lot of people to vegetarian cuisine,” he said.
Vegetarian and vegan dishes are integral to his café menus. He uses some animal-based protein, but no pork or crustaceans. And you will find olive oil but no butter in Chef Waldron’s kitchen.
Waldron’s commitment to learning is a foundation for his skills, said café manager Tim Berkheiser. “Attendance at events such as the Chef Summit reflects Waldron’s dedication to community, culture and personal growth,” Tim said.
Waldron’s interest in cooking took root while he was a junior at Plainfield High School in New Jersey. The school started the Bachelor Food Course, a cooking class for young men, at his suggestion. He served as an Air Force medic and had worked in the computer industry before deciding to pursue his love of cooking as a career.
He started in Orlando as a cook trainee setting up buffets, then moved to Epcot’s French Pavilion and enrolled in a 2½-year culinary development program with Stouffer Hotels. There he built a foundation in international cuisine with dishes such as raspberry-glazed quail and ostrich fajitas. He has owned a golf-themed restaurant in Jacksonville, worked as a personal chef and held chef positions at Florida Hospital and Forest Lake Academy before becoming “the chef of the UCF College of Medicine.”