Director of Dining Services Paul Hickman brings energy, fresh options to Interlochen’s cafeteria

Hickman plans to start a bowl station, incorporate student recipes, and bring in additional international cuisine.

A man in a blue shirt stands in front of a large industrial oven and smiles.

Paul Hickman, Director of Dining Services

Food has been a lifelong love affair for Paul Hickman. It was only natural that he’d seek out a career in the culinary world, exploring everything from catering to gourmet food manufacturing.  Now, his diverse background allows him to bring leadership and unique ideas to Interlochen’s cafeteria.

A lifelong love affair with food

Hickman’s interest in the culinary arts started early, and he credits his mother for inspiring him.

“I’ve been cooking since I was a kid. My mom made absolutely everything from scratch,” Hickman remembers. “We actually thought it was a treat when we were little kids to order a pizza or get pizza out of a box, because we didn't get that!”

Hickman maintained his passion for food into college, where he ended up joining forces with his roommates, who also enjoyed experimenting in the kitchen.

“To challenge ourselves, we would go buy pheasant or something—whatever we could find that was kind of weird. We’d make dishes out of it.”

After honing his skills in college, Hickman opened his own restaurant, which he ran for five years. He also owned a catering business, revamped the dining program in a medical center, and produced and sold an award-winning barbecue sauce. His most recent position was with Food for Thought, an artisanal food manufacturer based in Traverse City.

Hickman says his background gives him a sense of ownership and responsibility in everything he does, as well as insight into many aspects of the food industry.

“I think I bring more of a big picture perspective, versus someone who has always been just a chef or has always been just a front-end manager, because that's what they're going to concentrate on,” he says. 

Cooking for Interlochen 

Being Director of Dining Services at Interlochen comes with several unusual challenges. The position requires Hickman to not only oversee food preparation for an arts boarding school, but also triple the number of meals served every summer when campers arrive. 

As a small business owner myself, I think buying local is huge, because you're supporting people in your area. My goal is to get all of our vegetables grown in Michigan.

Paul Hickman

Despite the high quantity Hickman oversees, he pays attention to detail, and is committed to serving the highest quality of food possible.

“As a small business owner myself, I think buying local is huge, because you're supporting people in your area,” he says. “My goal is to get all of our vegetables grown in Michigan.”

Hickman also works with individuals with dietary concerns and restrictions. Whether students have medical or cultural concerns, he makes himself available to care for their needs.  

“I just want to make sure that if there is a dietary restriction, we accommodate it. We will do whatever we can and there's nothing we can't figure out,” he says. 

A group of people dressed in food service uniforms pose together in front of an industrial fridge.

Paul Hickman poses with members of the Dining Services team.

Fresh innovations 

Hickman is excited to broaden the range of options available with an array of new international flavors and even a bowl station.

“We'll have pho, poke bowls, and even burrito bowls. It's really popular, especially among students. There are some restaurants in Portland that have just blown up and all they do is serve bowls in different styles,” he says.  

He’s also looking forward to getting more feedback from students, and invites anyone with ideas or input to email him at  

“Eventually we're going to have a web page where we ask for recipes from different students. Tell us your favorite recipe; we want to duplicate it. If it’s good, we’ll steal it and put it in our rotation,” he says.

Hickman’s efforts are driven by his desire to “make people happy with good food” and help students have a great experience at Interlochen.

“It's their home for the time that they're here. So I want to ensure that they get the same quality they get at home, or even better, and that they get exposed to different cuisines and different foods. Food should be fun, so I want to make sure it's that way here.”

Learn more about Dining Services at Interlochen