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Q&A with John Macklin, executive chef at Mardi Gras Casino & Resort

John Macklin has been the executive chef at Mardi Gras Casino & Resort near Charleston, W. Va., since joining Delaware North in 2018 – shortly after the company acquired the Gaming property. Macklin is at the helm of culinary operations for Mardi Gras, which includes several restaurants and bars and a lounge, as well as banquet and catering services.

Macklin shares some of his professional journey at Delaware North in the Q&A below.

How did you get the executive chef role at Mardi Gras Casino & Resort?

I was living and working in Hilton Head, S.C., thinking about the future. I connected with Amy Tormey (talent acquisition manager) and Brian Sterner (then regional chef for Delaware North’s Gaming division) to discuss the possibilities at Delaware North. I researched the company and saw there were many opportunities and that the company had amazing values, which was a major reason why I wanted to join the team. About a month later, I relocated to West Virginia. It was so exciting to be part of the process of opening the casino after many renovations to improve the guest experience.

What are some of the values that you think Delaware North embodies through its team members?

I was intrigued by how Delaware North started and saw early on how all the divisions connected and supported each other. We’re a big company, but there are very few egos – we all embrace one another. Especially at the beginning of my career with Delaware North, I have always felt welcomed and tried to do that for new team members. We don’t often talk about being the force of change, but I try to bring that to work with me every day; always thinking about what or how I can do better to support my team and be a leader and mentor.

Why is it important to embrace diversity in the kitchen?

Understanding different backgrounds and what everyone on a team can bring to the table is essential. Going into a situation knowing that people may come from different paths helps everyone learn from each other. And at the end of the day, it’s all about the guest experience. Diversity allows us to embrace different perspectives that can lead to better ideas and processes, and even better food.

What has been most memorable about your career so far?

I’ve been able to be a part of a lot of memorable and informative events and conferences while at Delaware North. Some highlights:

  • Attending the American Culinary Federation National Conference in New Orleans in October 2018. The conference focused on mental health and provided resources and support for executive chefs on how to help team members who are struggling. I found it very informative, especially before the pandemic affected the hospitality industry a few years later.
  • Serving on the team for the grand reopening of Mardi Gras after completing major renovations in November 2019. We introduced exciting changes to the dining areas and I had the opportunity to meet leaders in the Gaming division and across Delaware North.
  • Attending the CHEFS Program Mentor Training at the Culinary Institute of America’s Texas campus in San Antonio in January 2023. I was able to reconnect and meet executive chefs from all over the United States. The training helped open my eyes to what it means to be a mentor and gave me knowledge that I can bring back to my sous chefs and my entire team.

Do you have advice for culinarians or team members looking to grow their careers at Delaware North?

Stay positive, no matter the situation. Guests can see and feel that positivity. I always try to come to work smiling and happy. Of course, we all need to address issues at work sometimes, but it’s important to take care of certain things behind closed doors.

Cook from the heart. Cooking is an art form. You can truly tell when a dish is made with love. I try to teach my cooks that each and every day. Your guests will know if you put passion into your food.

Communicate effectively. I am a big fan of communication in the kitchen, especially when it gets busy or stressful. It’s important to talk to your team members to ensure they have the tools to be successful, and, if not, to teach them how to grow.