Chef Rob Dumas’s love for food has brought him to kitchens in far-flung, high-profile places, from a submarine off the Virginia coast to the White House Navy Mess. Now, he’s at the University of Maine, for what may be his most creative and challenging gig yet.
Dumas joined UMaine this summer as its food science innovation coordinator. The newly created position oversees the management and outreach for the food science facilities that the university has to offer.
With his new position at the helm of these underutilized resources, Dumas not only hopes to teach Mainers more about food, but also to raise the profile for Maine-made food products on the national stage.
From the White House to Maine
While Dumas was working the restaurant circuit in his hometown of New Orleans in his 20s, he decided he wanted to go to a top-notch culinary school. He joined the Navy, planning to eventually take advantage of the G.I. Bill to pay for his education. He spent five years as a cook on a Navy submarine docked outside of Norfolk, Virginia.
“I learned that making food with love and care creates a family-like bond,” Dumas said. “Outside of food, these 140 guys had nothing to look forward to. Food became the focal point of everyone’s life.”
Moreover, he was one of the only chefs on-board with professional cooking experience prior to joining the crew.
“I distinguished myself and advanced quickly in rank because of that,” he said.
Soon, he was hired as a chef for the White House Navy Mess, a Navy-run dining facility in the basement of the West Wing. For the first four years of the Obama administration, Dumas not only cooked in the White House, but he also traveled with the first family.
He fondly remembers cooking breakfast in the Obamas’ Chicago residence, and preparing a cocktail for the President on a brutally humid day in Rio de Janeiro that Obama proclaimed “the best damn martini [he’s] ever had.”