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Pfeiffer’s first female executive chef leads by example

Pfeiffer University’s first female executive chef Ashley Earling has accepted the challenge of creating an environment welcoming to students far from home to help sustain the body while earning college degrees.

While in high school in Washington Township, N.J., Earling played softball like other student-athletes — but she also decorated cakes at a local bakery.

Coming from a big family, her mother, who worked in food service in the school system back home, cooked for every holiday. Her brother is also working as a chef at East Stroudsburg University.

“(My brother and I) never thought we’d go into the food business,” Earling said.

After studying at the Academy of Culinary Arts at Atlantic Cape Community College, Earling joined the staff at Pine Hill Golf Club.

She catered weddings and the executive banquet chef, working with brides at the facility later renamed Trump National Golf Club.

“I loved it, especially (working with) the brides,” Earling said. “That’s their day. That was my niche — making everything they wanted. You bent over backward for them.”

Customizing meals toward clients became a focus for Earling in 2018 when she accepted the Pfeiffer job.

Earling said she was proud of being the school’s first executive chef.

“A lot of chefs…tend to have big egos. ‘I’m the chef. I’m the show.’ I’ve never been like that,” Earling said. “I’ve always been humble from the places I’ve come from to the places I’m looking to go to.”

Her position with Pfeiffer is her first time as an executive chef and working within a corporation like Sodexo.

“This is a whole new ball game,” Earling said. “They put you up on a pedestal and make sure they treat your differently. I wasn’t used to the hat. It’s exciting, but it’s humbling.”

The executive chef position at Pfeiffer puts her in charge of everything students, faculty and staff eat on campus whether in the dining hall or the upstairs cafe.

One of her main duties is meal planning. She said this is difficult because the staff is learning how to use a new computer system.

She plans meals according to strict guidelines in terms of a meat, a protein or vegetable dish, a starch and other options for students, balancing that with costs per plate.

Despite budgetary restraints, Earling said 98 percent of fruits and vegetables served are fresh and local, never frozen.

When she started at Pfeiffer, she instituted a vegetarian station.

Pfeiffer students have an updated salad bar as part of new food choices.

“It’s a very popular station,” Earling said. “Before, there weren’t a lot of options for (vegetarians) to eat.”

Meals in the main dining area are served food-court style where diners can sample various dishes, make a salad or enjoy sub sandwiches with fresh baked bread made at Pfeiffer.

The dining room is open to the public and Earling said the public is welcome to come in.

Pfeiffer has about 600 students on a meal plan, and combined with the increased appetites of the school’s student-athletes, Earling said it can be a challenge to make sure to take care of everyone.

While always trying to provide different types of cuisine from Asian fusion to Cuban food and more, she said chicken tenders and french fries are the number-one request from the kids.

“Being a smaller school with the amount of students we have, it’s nice because they’re like family,” Earling said. “We know their names. We know what they like.”

Herself being far away from her family, Earling said she knows what it is like for students to be away from home missing their families.

“We do a lot of different things up here (in the cafe) and sometimes it’s hard to get the necessary things we need,” Rita Farrell, an upstairs cafe worker, said. “She makes sure I get them. She makes sure I get support from downstairs.”

Marketing the food service to students, staff and the community has been the job of Morgan Huneycutt, who said Earling has been important for the school with the focus on fresher ingredients.

“I’ve heard the food is 10 times better,” Huneycutt said. “She’s changing the way for Pfeiffer.”

About Charles Curcio

Charles Curcio was the sports editor of the Stanly News & Press from 1999-2001 and has currently served in the same capacity since 2008. He was awarded the NCHSAA Tim Stevens Media Representative of the Year and named CNHI Sports Editor of the Year in 2014. He has also been honored twice by the North Carolina Press Association.

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