Meet Hanna Center’s Executive Chef, Jorma Walker
The ‘Hanna Hall of Fame’ feature spotlights a staff member, alumni, donor or student who demonstrates the dedication, integrity, commitment and loyalty that collectively makes Hanna Center ‘home’ for so many.
Jorma is one of the most well-known and high-profile individuals on campus because whether you’re a student, staff, or faculty member, most are probably visiting the on-site cafeteria at least once and up to three times on any given day. Jorma, Hanna Center’s executive chef, will be celebrating his tenth anniversary at Hanna early next year. He and Eric, his assistant chef, never fail to bring their A-game when greeting and serving all who eagerly wait in line to see the day’s menu, from breakfast through dinner.
Jorma grew up in Sonoma and was playing rugby on campus with high school friends who went to Hanna (in the days before Hanna had a high school), years before he would be back as a professional cook. “I grew up with a lot of boys from Hanna,” says Jorma. “We were in school together and I had friends here.”
Growing up in a mainly Scottish/German household with a dad who was a baker and a mom who loved cooking, Jorma was surrounded by family who loved creating meals and he learned at a very young age that he was destined for a culinary career. At the age of 15, he began as a line cook at Deuce then moved up to the grill and continued to advance in roles at various restaurants, until he answered an ad for a sous-chef position. “I didn’t know until the interview that it was Hanna,” he says. Eventually, Jorma, who is completely self-taught, took over as executive chef when the job came available.
What Jorma enjoys most about his job is teaching and interacting with the boys. He started an internship program with the school nine years ago, teaching the students culinary skills while helping to prepare breakfast as well as dinner. “If they really like it,” he says, “I’ll send them to restaurants where I know the chef.” Hanna student Sam F. was made a sous-chef at the El Dorado Hotel restaurant soon after Jorma helped place him there and now, at age 19, he is the executive chef at Carpe Diem in Napa. “Sam is my prodigy,” he says.
“I talk to the boys all the time and ask them what they want to eat,” he says. “We like the same kind of food, but if it were up to them, we would be eating a lot more pizza and burgers. I like to change things up. They love the Nashville fried chicken and Asian food the most.”
In an industry where 12-hour shifts are the norm, Jorma is “very thankful” to be working a regular shift here at Hanna. “It’s hard to have a family in the restaurant business,” he says. “I love Hanna – what it stands for and everything that this organization has done for these boys,” he says. “I’m so glad to be a part of it.”