Celebrating Black History Month: Kevin Yarbrough
Why is it important that we celebrate Black History Month?
To me, it brings awareness to the things that African Americans and those who fought for equality went through to get to where we are now. African Americans had to overcome so much adversity and struggle – in the past and still to this day – and it’s important that we remember that.
Who are some figures in black history who have or continue to inspire you?
Some of the ones that made the biggest impact are no longer with us, but their sacrifices made a difference in the world and are still felt today. For me, Tupac was a big inspiration. People think of him as just a rapper, but he was really a poet who was trying to bring togetherness.
How do you try to incorporate this idea of togetherness at Compass?
By caring about who I’m working with. I work at a very diverse campus – from our students to our managers – so for me, it’s important to take the time to be involved with their lives to learn more about them and their backgrounds.
How do you try to pass down your legacy and your culture through food?
Most of what I learned about food, I learned from them – my great-grandma, dad, mom and grandmother. A lot of our family recipes weren’t written down, but I’ve taken the time to write them down, test them out and share them with my teams. It makes me proud to know that I can share that part of my family’s culture with my co-workers.
What made you decide to go into the culinary field?
I got my first job when I was 13 working in a restaurant, and I just stuck with it! Even though I did little odd jobs here and there, I always gravitated back toward the restaurant industry and I eventually I went to culinary school. People ask me why I don’t have my own restaurant yet, and I say because I like to travel. This job gives me the opportunity to do both things I love – cooking and traveling.
What career opportunities has your role with Compass allowed you?
I’ve experienced a lot of growth in the three years that I’ve been at Compass. I got to open a few locations for the company, including cafés at the University of Northwestern and the University of Memphis, and I’ve been able to use my skills to support other universities.
In addition to your cooking, how do you bring your authentic self to work?
Through my leadership, commitment and passion for my job. I’m from the South and people from there are very passionate about food. I like to share that with my staff and challenge them to use that passion, too. There’s no job in the kitchen that I won’t do. That might mean taking out the trash, or maybe it’s loading trucks, or washing dishes. I will get in there, and I will do it all. I’m very big about showing instead of telling, and I hope by being myself that I inspire others to do the same.
What’s made you most proud to work at Compass during these unprecedented times?
I would say it’s just the overall teamwork at Compass. During the pandemic, we donated food to local food pantries to help those in need. One thing that I’m really proud of is the work that the team at the University of Memphis did. The team made over 1 million box lunches to donate to the YMCA to help families impacted by COVID-19. Compass really cares about the community and its associates, and that makes me proud to work here.
What mark do you want to leave on Compass?
I just want to elevate the game. A lot of places think of food last, but Compass is an organization that’s culinary-driven, and we put food at the top. I want to add as much as I can to our culinary offerings and train as many associates on my style of cooking and flair, as possible. I also want to continue to create new recipes and introduce new techniques, so that after I’m gone, they’ll continue to use them. That’s one of the greatest marks I can leave.