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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

USC Restaurants' Exceptional Chefs

Students don't have to look any further than on campus for a fine dining experience headed by celebrity chefs. 

There are five full service restaurants on campus, but many students would be surprised by the people actually running the kitchens.

Chef Mikery “Mike” Hatfield of McKay’s Restaurant at the Radisson Hotel competed on Food Network’s “Cutthroat Kitchen” Sunday, and Chef Timothy McDowell of Moreton Fig has catered several big awards shows including, The Grammys, Oscars and ESPYs as executive chef for Wolfgang Puck.

USC Hospitality recruits chefs through a number of resources, Executive Chef of USC Hospitality Eric Ernest said. This includes through word of mouth, culinary school, ad agencies and other sources. Additionally, chefs at USC are sought out for their diverse experience.

“We look for training not only in classical technique, but modern cookery,” Ernest said. “We look for professionalism, we look for a stellar work history, we look for leadership skills, we look for training skills as well as developmental skills.”

Before Hatfield came to USC, he worked as the banquet chef at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel. He was recruited by USC Hospitality through his LinkedIn Profile and has been at McKay’s for four years. “My first response was, wow that really works, and my second response was of course, it’s USC,” Hatfield said. 

“A lot of people may assume like myself, before going on the show that it’s a little scripted, it’s a little pre-planned, it’s a little packaged, not the case,” Hatfield added. “You get there and I viewed the show myself from home, after having done it and I was every bit of surprised.”

McDowell was recruited after touring the world as the executive culinary specialist in the United States Navy. He previously was the executive chef of Wolfgang Puck catering in Los Angeles at L.A. Live where he worked at events following the Grammy Awards, the Academy Awards and the Espy Awards.

As the executive chef of USC restaurants, McDowell has creative control at Moreton Fig and the other full service restaurants. He is charge of the menus and getting the freshest produce in the kitchen.

“A lot of corporations, a lot of restaurant chains, they’re basically worked by running numbers and by basically crunching labor and crunching food cost, and managing by means of business,” McDowell said. “At USC we manage by food so our goal is to put the best possible product in front of our guest and let the financials follow it.”

USC Hospitality has a zero-dollar budget, Ernest said. At the end of the year, all restaurants maintain a budget of zero dollars and any overages go back to the university’s academic programming.

Some might wonder why these high profile chefs come to USC. Stability is one of the main reasons why McDowell chose to accept the position.

“This is the only culinary job that I’ve ever seen in my life that I work Monday through Friday,” McDowell said. “Granted there are some days like game days and what have you, but I’ve never been able to spend Mother’s Day with my mother until I got a job at USC.”

Although stability is what kept Hatfield at McKay’s for four years, not one day is the same.

“Working for USC is amazing because without actually travelling, you feel like we have such a diverse culture here whether it’s faculty and students,” Hatfield said. “So if you look across the landscape of our hospitality of our department, it encompasses so many styles of cooking.” 

For a map of USC's Full Service Restaurants, click here

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