Meet the Man Behind Executive Dining

Learn about the man behind all your meals at the GSB: Chef Raul Lacara. Hear about his path from Manila to Stanford and why he earns such rave reviews.

March 23, 2023

Raul Lacara

Chef Raul Lacara is the Associate Director of Schwab Executive Dining at Stanford University. But titles don’t begin to describe his passion and commitment to feeding Exec Ed program participants for the last 22 years. It’s no wonder Stanford GSB EE has ranked #1 in the Financial Times Food and Accomodation category for years. And, while he may not teach any classes at Stanford, his story is a lesson in leadership all the same.

As someone who grew up not knowing where his next meal might come from, Lacara’s career path from the streets of Manila to Stanford is truly extraordinary. And he certainly isn’t anything like the chefs we see on TV. He’s warm, generous, and humble. We were lucky enough to squeeze into his busy schedule, sample his famous cookies, and learn why he and the Stanford dining experience are unlike any other.

How did you first find your way to the kitchen?

Honestly, it was out of necessity. I needed a job in order to eat and the hotels in Manila would feed you. By the time I was 13, I had lost both my parents and really had to fend for myself. I was so thankful for that first job. I showed up several hours before my shift and stayed several hours after in hopes of getting noticed. Lucky for me I really loved the kitchen. Food is everything to me.

Where did your culinary career take you before Stanford?

I’m blessed to have worked in some of the best hotels and cruise lines all over the world. But honestly, the place I love the most is Stanford. Look at this place…it’s beautiful, the weather is perfect, the people are amazing, there’s an abundance of fresh local foods, and I’m able to capture some of the spirit of innovation in the food we make.

We noticed that when people are reviewing Exec Ed programs they always rave about you and your food. What’s your secret?

I believe that food makes people happy. That’s what we’re here to do. So we cook with joy and try to make people feel at home even though they’re away from their families for days, sometimes weeks. I am so honored and grateful to be a part of the GSB experience and meet all of these amazing people.

Is it true that you are a master ice carver?

Yes, it is. And butter, too.

What’s your typical day?

I wake up at 4:00 am and always start my day with a prayer of thanks before driving from my home in Sacramento to Stanford. People think I’m crazy spending 3 to 4 hours in the car each way, but I don’t have anything to complain about because I never forget where I came from. I have a nice car with a radio and a cell phone to talk with the staff, order food, and prepare for the unforeseen issues that will come up that day. Once at Stanford, I make the rounds, checking in with everyone to see how I can help and support them that day. I cook with my team, always tasting the food, and make sure to talk to as many guests as I can to make them feel taken care of. I head home after dinner has been served.

Where do you get all your recipes?

To me a recipe is in your head and your heart. I tell my team that they need to take the time to taste everything. That’s how you get the best flavor, not from copying a recipe.

What is important when planning a menu?

I want the food to be exciting and surprising. Unlike a restaurant, we never have the same thing on the menu. It’s also very important that we offer choices and make sure that every diner feels taken care of. I guess what I am trying to say is we don’t take a meal and simply modify it to meet specific food issues . We plan with the participants in mind, what their eating preferences are, where their taste profiles are and create from there. I don’t want anyone to feel left out.

What has kept you at Stanford for over 20 years?

It’s my Schwab Team who work incredibly hard and have always been there for me. And, my mentors Dr. Shirley Everett and Eric Montell who always guide me and give me courage and support every day. And Dean Jon Levin and the entire Stanford GSB community for always acknowledging our great work.

What are you most proud of?

Bringing joy to my diners. My Harley Davidson. And of course, my two sons…one who is at UC Davis and one who is a junior right here at Stanford.

And now for our final question: What will you be preparing next?

Oh, that’s a surprise!

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