BY DANIEL MOLINA AND CATHERINE GOODYEAR
Most of Manhattan College’s students swipe into Locke’s Loft, fill up a plate and sit down to eat without thinking twice that the trays will be full the next time they return.
Feeding 2,043 people a day is not an easy task. Assuming every person eats three times a day (sometimes more with unlimited meal swipes for most residents) that would be roughly 6,000 meals every 24 hours. So how does it all happen? Behind the scenes, it is in many ways an organized chaos.
The first step is deciding what food to prepare. The chefs and dietitian gather once a month to create the menu and try not to repeat in one day the food that is cooked for dinner and lunch.
“Locke’s has a four week menu cycle that never repeats anything for those four weeks unless there is a request. The cycle can be found online,” Brian Conway, assistant general manager of Gourmet Dining at Manhattan College, said.
Once the menu is set, the raw ingredients and supplies have to make their way to the kitchens.
Feeding 2,043 people translates into just a bit more than your typical Sunday shopping list.
The carving station alone can cook and serve 12 whole turkeys and up to 140 pounds of flank steak.
Regular crowd favorites like French fries and chicken fingers have three deliveries a week consisting of 60 pounds of fries, 60 pounds of onion rings and 60 pounds or more of chicken fingers.
Fresh fruit and vegetables are delivered daily, including five types of lettuce alone.
“It’s in our contract that we are required to only use fresh fruit and vegetables, nothing is frozen,” Conway said.
“There’s not a lot of fridge and freezer space so everything is always fresh.”
Before Gourmet Dining utilizes a new produce supplier, they run background checks to see if the company is socially conscious and investigate where their supplies come from.
Most of the fruits and vegetables come from Plainfield Produce, a locally sourced supplier based out of New Jersey.
Once this daily delivery of produce joins the other many pounds of food that have been delivered and stored on campus, it is time to sharpen the knives and fire up the ovens.
By contract, all food offered on campus must be made in the kitchens located in either Thomas Hall or the Kelly Commons.
However, there are a few exceptions, such as the sushi available most days in Locke’s. More than a hundred rolls are ordered and delivered the day.
But just who is behind the scenes turning those raw ingredients into the food that ends up on your plate?
There are 140 Locke’s employees, and 86 of them work around the clock, with three shifts of 13 people who do the dishes alone. There are a total of 25 chefs, two chefs per meal period with other specialized chefs.
Maintaining the equipment in proper conditions after this level of use is hard and it has to be cleaned or replaced periodically. Gourmet Dining recently invested $60,000 into a new dish washing machine that is more energy efficient and conserves water.
They often must replenish supplies of cutlery such as spoons, which frequently go missing.
“About 6,000 spoons had to be reordered already and it is only a couple weeks into the first semester,” Conway said.
Besides the main entrees, students can choose from the Tex Mex and the exhibition station, and both are intended to offer students different dining options.
“The goal of our exhibition station is to help students try different things that they may not have had tried otherwise. Instead of paying $30 for crab cakes in a restaurant just to find out you don’t like them, you can test them out here first,” Conway said.
While their primary mission is supplying food on campus, Gourmet Dining understands there are important responsibilities that come with this task.
An important issue in the food industry today is the idea of sustainability and avoiding food waste.
“Around 8 o’clock the preparing of food starts to wind down,” Conway said. “My chefs do what we call batch cook. Instead of cooking a bunch of food at once, we cook only what is needed for that tray. We have post-production sheets so we look at how much did we have left over and how much did we cook. We keep all of that information so we know what to order the next time.”
Other kinds of efforts have been made throughout the years to curb students’ food waste. By eliminating the use of trays in the cafeteria, for example, students took only what they were going to eat, instead of filling up a tray.
Just from a sheer numbers side of the business, feeding that many people is no simple task. Historically, college dining services have been maligned for low quality and poor taste. Conway understands that there will always be some students that complain.
“All the things we do are intended to increase the customer satisfaction,” he said.
“Yes, is hard to please everyone, but we do our best to think about how we will improve ourselves to offer the students better meal options.”