Man in kitchen

Ryan DeGuzman fills the inaugural role and helps relaunch platforms. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

Meet the CoHo’s First Executive Chef

by | Feb 20, 2024 | Food, On Campus, Spring 2024

The ASUCD Coffee House has introduced a new executive chef: Ryan DeGuzman. 

A graduate of Sacramento’s Christian Brothers High School, DeGuzman pursued his Bachelor of Science from UC Davis, majoring in neurobiology, physiology and behavior. Between classes, DeGuzman worked at the Coffee House, working his way up to manager positions. He even contributed recipes to the Coffee House cookbook released in 1997.

DeGuzman returns to campus with over a decade of culinary experiences from small universities to large casinos. DeGuzman briefly transitioned into a career in production management in different regional health facilities before returning to food — and his alma mater — in 2022.

“I’ve always wanted to go back to UC Davis,” DeGuzman said. “Having worked at the Coffee House in the ’90s, it’s a place that I really keep in my heart.”

He is also now a father of two daughters currently pursuing their undergraduate degrees.

“I always tell my kids, ‘There’s scary and there’s scary fun.’ This is scary fun,” DeGuzman said. “I feel like I have imposter syndrome, but ultimately, it’s just a great feeling.”

Man in kitchen

DeGuzman at work in the CoHo kitchen (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

Meals for the masses

DeGuzman previously worked at Soka University in Southern California, a university that predominantly serves a Japanese and Japanese American student population. The culinary learning curve was humbling, he said.

“They actually taught me how to make rice properly. I made rice every day and they’re just, like, ‘No, that’s not right.’ Even simple things, like their dashi or their soups, they’re, like, ‘My cat wouldn’t eat that.’”

DeGuzman also worked as restaurant chef at Cache Creek Casino and Resorts for nearly seven years.

“I was a fine dining chef, but I also did a lot of banquets. I would do a wine tasting dinner at least once a quarter where I would serve a couple of hundred people.”

While working as a production manager at Dignity Health, the weight of the pandemic shifted his career trajectory.

“I just needed a break. My wife is a nurse. I was like, ‘Both of us can’t be in the hospital right now.’ I wanted to go back to education.”

Meeting — and expanding — the CoHo

De Guzman joined UC Davis as a sous chef in 2022 before being named executive chef in May 2023. In this new, inaugural role, De Guzman now manages a team five student managers and about 100 kitchen workers.

Created in 1968 by the Associated Students of the University of California at Davis, the Coffee House was made to offer students quality bites between classes. Originating in East Hall, the CoHo relocated to the Memorial Union in 1973. The Coffee House has undergone a facelift since DeGuzman’s time in the mid-’90s, most notably the 2009-10 renovation that received a LEED Gold certification.

For a massive student population, meal planning is an educated dice roll.

“Every year it’s kind of like starting from scratch,” DeGuzman explained. “There’s a lot more students than last year. You really can’t go by what the numbers were the last couple of years because of COVID. It’s a steep learning curve.”

He’s helped relaunch two CoHo platforms, Cooks and Croutons, previously closed due to the pandemic.

The Cooks platform is “an international hot food line” with a menu that rotates daily. “One day it could be Filipino food, the next day it could be Indian food, the next day it could be Greek food,” DeGuzman said, with each menu including “at least one vegetarian or vegan option every day.” The Croutons platform is an expanded salad bar.

“There’ll be food for everyone,” DeGuzman explained.

His plans for new dishes at the Coffee House are intentionally global, informed by his experience as a student at UC Davis and now a parent of a college student studying abroad in Scotland.

“I really want to try to find dishes that will make someone who’s homesick just feel like they’re home or give a little bit of a nod to their own ethnicity.” He’s asked CoHo student employees to contribute their own family recipes for menu.  

He said he hopes Cooks offers a wide variety of dishes including “Greek food like moussaka, Filipino food like Adobo, Indian food like tikka masala” and increases the percentage of ingredients grown on campus student farms.

“I remember back in the day we used to plant basil and harvest just for the Coffee House so we could make fresh pesto for the whole year. We would just freeze it,” DeGuzman said. “And my goal is to go back to that. I want to bring programs like that back.”

For DeGuzman, being back on campus is a full circle moment in many ways.

“I use my science background all the time. Cooking is kind of a lab science — it’s a chemistry lab in real life.”