Courtesy LJ Klinenberg/LinkedIn
The new boss: LJ Klinkenberg
When LJ Klinkenberg first applied for the job some 17 years ago, “I was nowhere near ready.” He was still “working up the ranks” and ended up befriending the man who landed the role. He and Jamie Callison worked on culinary projects together, judging competitions and cooking together on occasion.
When Callison left for a culinary deanship in Florida, not only did Klinkenberg still want the job, this time he was ready for it. He started as the director and executive chef of the Marriott Foundation Hospitality and Culinary Innovation Center at Washington State University’s Carson College of Business in fall 2022.
“It’s really special to be able to be part of his legacy,” says Klinkenberg, who holds a master’s degree in organizational leadership from Gonzaga University and bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies from Eastern Washington University. He also has a culinary arts degree from Spokane Community College (SCC) and completed the coursework but not his dissertation for a doctorate in education at Grand Canyon University.
Klinkenberg has taught culinary arts at SCC and Richland Community College in Decatur, Illinois. Before coming to WSU, he had served as the director and executive chef for Cheney Public Schools since 2015.
Klinkenberg grew up northwest of Seattle before moving with his family at 13 to the Cheney area, where his parents bought and revitalized a resort and restaurant. He worked in the kitchen of Klink’s on the Lake at Williams Lake.
In 2011, he appeared on Food Network’s Extreme Chef, then began working with a production team creating multimedia food and entertainment projects for television, radio, and more. He appeared on Guy’s Grocery Games as well as in a few films and runs his own consulting firm, Luck Junky Consulting.
From 2012 to 2021, he was also an educational consultant and logistical expert for Empire Health Foundation, aiming to help school districts convert to whole-food, scratch-made nutrition programs in seven counties.
(Courtesy WSU Carson College of Business)
The chef de cuisine: Jamie Wilson-Spray
Jamie Wilson-Spray grew up in this kitchen. She began frequenting the Marriott Foundation Hospitality and Culinary Innovation Center when she was just 13 or 14. That’s when she met Jamie Callison, former director and executive chef. As a high school student, she participated in culinary programs that he judged, then studied under him at WSU.
Wilson-Spray (x’21 Hum.) hails from Tekoa and a high school graduation class of nine.
In college, she got experience at Black Cypress, Pullman’s recent James Beard Award semifinalist in hospitality. She also worked in Spokane during events such as Inlander Restaurant Week and the Crave! Northwest food festival as well during stagiaires, or stages, at restaurants such as Inland Pacific Kitchen and Churchill’s Steakhouse. One memorable event was helping out at the Celebrity Farm-to-Fork Series at the Coeur d’Alene Casino Resort Hotel in Worley, Idaho, when Cat Cora was the featured celebrity chef.
Her college career culminated during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, after which she decided to broaden her experience by cooking in Mississippi for about a year. “I was trying to get some new experience outside of my realm. I wanted to see the culture and experience the difference down there, not only with culture but food and diversity—and I got all of that. I loved everything I did down there.”
When she returned, WSU is the first place she checked for the next step in her career. “They welcomed me back with open arms,” she says, adding, “I don’t think there will ever be more of a home for me than the Pacific Northwest. I’m a nature person. I love the mountains, the rivers—and the people, of course, as well.”
It’s particularly special to work for the same program that gave her so much as a student. “The Marriott Foundation Hospitality and Culinary Innovation Center is a big part of my heart,” she says. “Not only do our students take classes here, we pay students; they are our part-time employees. They get on-the-job training before they leave school. That’s part of our student-centered mission. They’re being taught the entire time.”