A fierce, driven businesswoman who is a guiding force in her community – that’s how Chef Simone Byron’s mentor describes her. The rising star first started cooking at Disney and then grew her career at Compass Group. Today, she mentors other female chefs in the industry and partners with Thompson Hospitality and Compass Group to teach underserved, high-potential high schoolers, giving them the tools – and the pathway – to change the trajectory of their lives through the power of food.
Persistence, passion and knowing how to ask for what she needs are in Chef Simone’s DNA. She shares these principles with her students and recently spoke about them as a chef panelist at Compass Group’s 2022 Women in Culinary event honoring female culinarians on International Women’s Day. In the “Leading with Purpose” panel, Chef Simone emphasized the importance of building relationships. To her that means sharing her time, talent and connections. It also means finding the right mentor who can help young talent navigate their careers.
“Find one mentor and it will change your life. I didn’t know my own self-worth. I didn’t know all I could accomplish. The only reason I am sitting here today is because of Genevieve Stona, the VP of Joint Ventures at Thompson Hospitality,” said Chef Simone. “She taught me that I had skills, the connections and the ability to pave a new way for myself and my community.”
The Women in Culinary program is designed to empower Compass Group female culinarians through dedicated training opportunities, leadership development programs and an annual conference-and-recognition event. Fourteen chefs from across the country, and across the Compass family of businesses, gathered in Charlotte, N.C., last week to meet with industry leaders, learn about the latest food trends from supply partners and compete in a chef challenge.
“There is a confidence I have in Compass Group with business growth. You will never have to leave the company to take on a new role or explore a new opportunity. There’s always room for growth,” said Chef Simone. “That is the recipe for professional success.”
And it’s a recipe she shares with students because Chef Simone views foodservice as a pathway out of poverty. Focusing on workforce skill development to help disadvantaged youth thrive in any career, Simone developed the Navigate program in 2018. Chef Simone partners with Thompson Hospitality and Compass Group to create internships in client locations, leveraging this connection to pave the way forward and make real change in the lives of young people experiencing socioeconomic disadvantages.
“FLIK has been a blessing to hundreds of kids over the last few years. Kids who were going left completely changed and made a sharp right-hand turn out of their bad situations,” she recalls. “Seeing that let me roll up my sleeves because this partnership is a game changer.”
Chef Simone fears inequality will only grow until corporate, private and nonprofit communities work together to overcome disadvantages and disparity. Her goal is to continue to build on her 15-year relationship with Compass Group and Thompson Hospitality to launch the regional Navigate program in all 50 states. The shared vision to build an authentic, inclusive culture was emphasized at the Women in Culinary event. Experts say you’re a product of your environment, so together we’re changing the environment.