Throughout the school year I have managed to cook a nice meal for myself maybe once or twice a week. Finding the time and devoting energy into preparing a plate of food in which I would consume in less time than it took to make, is difficult. So how does one produce say 43 to 44 hundred meals a day? When I say meal, I am not referring to the easy mac that most of us have eaten at one point in our college lives, but rather a scoop of vegan rice with a side of roasted sesame salmon, topped off with fresh green beans.
Most likely working in a college dining hall will prepare you for a job this ambitious.
As we sat under the dimmed chandelier lights of the Harry Potter inspired dining hall, Marist College’s Executive Chef Anthony Legname and Marketing Coordinator Emily Baksa were able to discuss with me the efforts that go into running a healthy dining hall here at Marist.
Recently, the US Health and Food Certification has awarded six institutions in the country with a R.E.A.L. certification, and fortunately Marist College was one of them. An acronym that stands for Responsible Epicurean Agricultural Leadership, this nationally recognized certification is given by USHFC, validating institutions for their nutritious food and environmentally friendly food service operators. While speaking with Baksa a little bit more about what this meant for Marist, she described the different aspects of this certification. Responsible refers to the responsibility it takes when looking at how healthy the food really is. Something Marist has been doing for a while now as they continue to strive and make sure all our food meets nutritional requirements. This means that the grass fed burgers, lean chicken and meats, along with the protein, grains, and breakfast smoothie bars are constantly being modified and improved. Epicurean focuses on the culinary aspect, which happens to be the chef’s area of expertise. Although Sodexo is our dining provider Chef Anthony likes to tweak the menu with a few personal spins, explaining to me how “we tailor it to what we believe is wanted here.” By taking the students into consideration, the Marist dining hall is able to provide healthy meals that are just as tasty. The Agricultural aspect takes into account the sourcing of the food. While conversing with Baksa, she mentioned “[Marist] takes pride in the fact that our food is locally or regionally grown.” By doing so the school is encouraging local farming while also enhancing the local economy. Finally, Leadership looks at how the institutions educate people about nutrition, which explains why all the food provided in the Marist dining hall is always served with its nutritional facts. When asked what this award meant for Marist, Chef Anthony shared it was a stamp of approval that displayed their hard efforts.
“For them to acknowledge a success that we already had, was a big deal. We were already doing it so getting that recognition was great.”
So how does this healthy food get served to the undergrads at Marist College? In order to stay healthy, both Baska and Chef Anthony shared that the earliest we receive food is 1.5 days in advance. For example, the produce that gets delivered on Friday afternoon is said to cover every meal from Friday’s dinner all the way through to Monday morning breakfast, making sure we are constantly getting fresh food. Planning ahead and knowing what food is coming is a key element in preparing these 43 to 44 hundred meals a day. Surprisingly Baska and Chef Anthony mentioned how there is really no stress at all. At one time there are about 18-20 chefs cooking during meal times to serve what is needed. As the chef mentioned this fast paced environment has become second nature to him. “[I am] growing and learning as we go, I love the bigger numbers. It’s always a challenge but I’m ready for anything.”
Students and staff around us came and left, we soon realized we had been sitting at the dining hall conversing for about an hour. As I thanked them for meeting with me Chef Anthony and Baksa mentioned how the dining hall employees were dedicated people that made sure the students were pleased. Chef Anthony explained how as chef,
“it’s not just about putting out food, but it’s about making sure it’s welcomed. Something that students enjoy.”
Simply put, by the end of the interview not only did I feel like I knew more about our dining hall but the important roles they played on campus. It was this personable connection that made the interview much more intriguing, showing me the passion and tenacity both had to make our dining hall experience during our college years one to enjoy and embrace.