chefs talking

Meet Our Founder & President, Mary Thornton

In 2016, amid changing food and consumer trends, Mary Thornton decided to bring a new idea to the table. Recognizing the need for healthy, wholesome, sustainable food in venues across the country, and guests’ increasing desire to know where their food comes from, Mary proposed the creation of a new culinary group. After working with a team of industry experts to research and test various programs and ideas, a new, independent division of Aramark was launched – the Harvest Table Culinary Group. We caught up with Mary to discuss how the idea for Harvest Table came to life.


What prompted the idea for Harvest Table?

As we noticed our guests and clients looking for more personalized experiences, we considered ways to make their dining experiences about more than just food. How could we take our food-first philosophy to the next level? While developing Harvest Table, we put food front and center, and surround it with a service experience that’s more aligned with a hospitality company than a food service company. Colleges and universities that are interested in Harvest Table pride themselves on making deep connections with their students, and we want to make those same connections through the culinary experience we provide.


Harvest Table is about more than food, it’s about the experience and achieving personal fulfillment. How do you see peoples’ attitudes towards food and lifestyle changing in the world right now?

It’s an interesting time to be part of a larger movement of food really being more personal again. It’s not just at colleges or universities. The world around us is really going back to an earlier time, in some ways, where your food source was much closer to where you’re consuming it. The quality that brings, and the goodness for the human body, but also for the earth, is going to continue to grow. There’s a huge food culture in the United States that is adapting to a more personalized model. It’s not necessarily just an east coast or a west coast thing, it’s a society that really wants to know where their food comes from, who’s making it, the qualities that it has, and that the people growing, harvesting and serving it are getting taken care of in an appropriate way. I get excited by that.


What sets Harvest Table apart from other dining service providers?

We don’t think of ourselves as a service provider. We are a culinary group, so we are first and foremost focusing on the culinary experience – from where the products are coming from and who is growing them to recipe development and how our chefs bring them to life in each community. Focusing first on the culinary, which weaves through everything we do, allows us to be very personalized for each of the partners we work with. For example, what you see in our recipe collection at a northeast university will be different than what is featured at a southeast university. We also engage our guests where they are on a regular basis. From chef-lead demonstrations of cooking skills that students will need after graduation to partnering with student groups on campus, and helping younger students learn to make healthier choices. We pride ourselves on making connections within each of our unique communities.

What’s your favorite Harvest Table dish?

I try to eat healthy, so my favorite meal is pretty simple: the Brasstown Beef flank steak, perfectly pan-seared and served up with a fresh side of oven-roasted vegetables. It doesn’t get better than that! MARY THORNTON

What inspires you?

I’m inspired by contributing to making life easier for our next generations of leaders. Without your physical needs taken care of, you’re not going to be successful in education, learning and growing. So, I see us as a key part of students’ overall development as an individual that will leave their time on campus ready to do something really amazing. Because we have been so close to them during that journey, we have contributed to that. Watching the students grow and learn from freshman year to senior year is an inspiration–they grow, they mature, they learn in all aspects of their lives, and I feel so inspired by our opportunity to contribute to that.

See what we're up to
today on Instagram.

View All Posts
Over 30 chefs from our culinary team shared their favorite recipes for you to enjoy right in your own home. Enjoy them today! #linkinbio
Our Harvest Table chefs and food enthusiasts are excited to be back on Grounds at @uva today for a surprise Pop-Up! Our team will be outside of Runk Dining Hall serving a special, plant-forward menu featuring Roasted Fall Veggie Tacos, Apple Cider Churros, Spiced Hot Chocolate, and more, all featuring ingredients sourced from local Virginia partners.
Looking to add more value to your campus dining program? We partnered with the University of Redlands to create a retail-centric experience that included enhanced variety & options, while bringing local products right to campus. Uncover the full transformation today with the #lnkinbio
We are excited to be back on Grounds at @uva tomorrow! Come meet our team of passionate food enthusiasts as we share what we bring to the table. Follow @harvesttableuva for more information!
Tonight’s the night! @ravensymone leads masterful cake and sugar artists through holiday battles packed with mind-blowing, holiday themed creations. Help us cheer on @chefmina16 and her team, Treat Yo Elf, in #holidaywars on @foodnetwork at 8pm EST!
We are excited to announce that our pastry chef and three time @foodnetwork competitor @chefmina16 will be competing on season 2 Holiday Wars which premiers this Sunday, November 1 at 8pm EST! Join us in cheering on Chef Mina and team Treat Yo Elf throughout the competition! #holidaywars
Pull up a seat and get ready to experience food service done differently with us today at @aashenews #GCSHE virtual conference. Make sure to tune in to our on demand session where our chefs show us how to get creative using spare ingredients as well as @chefmthompson seminar with @farmforward on how we approach food sourcing. See you soon!
The story of food begins with a farmer. Today is a day to celebrate #nationalfarmersday and thank them for all of their hard work cultivating the land to provide for our community. Next week, our Chief Culinary Officer @chefmthompson will be joining @farmforward at the #GCSHE virtual conference and expo to discuss how we approach food sourcing and our partnerships with local farmers.
We went one-on-one with parents and students to learn more about their expectations around returning to campus. Discover what we found and the emerging opportunities to exceed those expectations in the #linkinbio👆
#beNICEday - to yourself and to others! We think everyone deserves a little sweetness like these grilled peaches with housemade cinnamon whipped cream made by @chef_vetter #mondayinspiration
Thank you to all of those who have donated and are participating in @nacasnational virtual run this week. As a reminder, there are TWO days left to participate, you got this! #NACASCARES #WhyWeCare
Happy #WorldVegetarianDay! We look forward to serving up fresh, vibrant vegetarian meals to celebrate today and all month. #vegetarianawarenessmonth
We know that now more than ever we need to be a part of the change and join conversations on social and ecological issues in the world. We are excited to announce that we will be a sponsor at the virtual Global Conference on Sustainability in Higher Education from 10/20-10/22! Link in bio to register for the conference today! #GCSHE
As students return to campus, we know they are facing a whole new level of uncertainty during these unprecedented times. Which is why @nacasnational launched their new NACASCARES Annual Giving Campaign to help provide funding such as housing, counseling, and food to students. The Harvest Table Culinary Group leadership team is participating in this years run/walk on 9/28-10/4 to support this amazing cause. Join us to help make a difference! linkinbio #whywecare #nacascares