The kitchen staff at Anderson Commons serves roughly 30,000 meals to Wheaton staff and students each week. Last Thursday, executive chef John Krickl took students on a full tour of the operation behind those 30,000 meals. The tour took about a dozen participating students, who registered for the tour based on interest, through the kitchens, store rooms, and refrigerators of both Sam’s and Anderson Commons, highlighting the sustainable and environmentally-conscious practices which Bon Appetit uses to feed Wheaton College.
The tour was part of Bon Appetit fellow Amanda Wareham’s visit to campus. Bon Appetit provides food service to hundreds of corporations, colleges, and other venues; as a fellow, Wareham works to educate students about where their food is coming from by organizing awareness initiatives, cooking classes and farm tours at schools served by Bon Appetit. In a culture which is “increasingly disconnected” from its food, Wareham believes that social and environmental context behind meals is more important than ever for students. Touring the kitchen facilities with Krickl and Wareham, students at Wheaton got a glimpse into that side of their food.
As students made their way through the “bowels of Wheaton” with Krickl — “The bowels smell like donuts!” observed one student — they met a large cast of Bon Appetit workers, from the familiar face of Raul Delgado, who serves as general manager of Wheaton’s food services; to Saba, who hand-cuts all of the fruit served in the salad bar; to Sarah and Simone, who “wash all the pots and pans that we burn,” says Krickl. With four to five chefs and four bakers working on any given day, the Anderson Commons method of preparing food is both staff and labor-intensive. That’s because “anything we can make from scratch, we do make from scratch,” says Krickl. That includes pizza crusts, Sam’s muffins, salad dressings, soup stocks and more.
“Everything we serve is started by hand and finished by hand,” Krickl said, reflecting the emphasis on quality which is placed on both the sourcing and preparation ends of the food service process. Per Bon Appetit company policy, 20 percent of kitchen inventory comes from local sources; sous chef Omar Rocha plans the menu each week based on what is available from local farmers, and the Anderson Commons kitchen receives regular weather and crop reports in order to anticipate growing conditions which may affect both the cost and quantity of the ingredients available to them.
This commitment to quality requires a lot of labor from Krickl and his team, for whom a 10-hour workday is “a good day.”
“The work is never done,” said Krickl, “but we love doing it.”
Despite preparing most menu items by hand and from scratch, the Anderson Commons kitchen still puts out enormous amounts of food. Participants in the tour were given an array of statistics about the food consumed by students on a daily basis: 800 pounds of chicken in each serving area on chicken tender night. 170 to 200 pounds of plain egg scramble every morning. 300 omelettes per day. Between 50 and 100 pizzas per meal. With these staggering numbers, students on the tour naturally came to the question: what happens to the food that’s left over?
That’s where another intriguing statistic comes in: 40,000. That’s the pounds of food that Wheaton has donated to the People’s Resource Center of Wheaton since the two groups began their partnership in December of 2014. The kitchens make donations twice a week of food that is not used during meals and which was not out on a serving line.
Since wasted food does, of course, cost money, Krickl and his team do all they can to reduce waste through a process called “batch cooking,” in which all ingredients are kept separate until they are ready to go out to the serving line. This reduces unusable food waste — food in casseroles or other dishes which has already been mixed with other ingredients. Because Wheaton does not have a composting program, this food must be thrown away. Ingredients preserved by the batch cooking method are frequently repurposed, in soups, new entrees, desserts and the salad bar.
Krickl answered many questions which plague the everyday Wheaton diner. The egg mystery resolved: the scrambled eggs are not powdered. In fact, Bon Appetit uses exclusively cage-free eggs, which are a more expensive but more ethical and healthful option. What about the absence of berries? Since they must be imported from other countries for most of the year, berries are not only cost-prohibitive but also go against Bon Appetit’s low-carbon policy, with the high environmental impacts of air-freighting across oceans. And why so much chicken? “You guys like chicken,” Krickl said. Students eat more chicken than any other meat and therefore the cafeteria offers a chicken option at every meal.
Another question: does Krickl have any pet peeves from students eating at the Commons?
“Stir-frying on the panini press,” he laughs. “But that’s not a battle I’m willing to fight anymore.”