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From Package to Platter: Behind the scenes of the Harker kitchen staff

by Nerine Uyanik and Ashley Jiang

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A chef adds salt to the tub of steak-cut fries and begins shoveling the thickly-cut slices into small paper containers. Sixteen of the 18 busy members of the Upper School kitchen staff hustle around the kitchen, delicately but efficiently placing plates of steaming salmon in neat rows on the shiny counter as they await the mob of hungry students to rush into Manzanita Hall.

The kitchen staff value preparation and understand its importance especially in the culinary world. They begin preparing for lunch the day before to reduce the workload the next day.

“The most important thing in culinary terms is called mise en place, [and] it means [that] everything’s in its place [and] everything has a place, so it is being organized – that’s the most important thing,” Executive Chef Stephen Martin said. “We base all our production on being organized and using fresh ingredients and batch cooking. We start our preparation the day before, then we cook in batches the day of so we try not to overcook and we try not to overproduce.”

The kitchen staff enjoy taking on the challenge of serving the large Harker community.

“It’s very fun, [and] it’s interesting to see what everybody tends to go for,” prep chef Richelle Periandri said. “The challenging part is because we have so many items, for example if you say you want something specific, we’re like, ‘Oh, now we have to run and go get this one real quick,’ so that gets a little hard, but overall, it’s fun. We interact with you guys, so it’s really neat to talk to you sometimes if you have a second.”

Producing approximately 90,000 meals a month for school lunches, staff meals and catering, the kitchen staff is the powering factor behind the Harker community, making sure that fresh, nutritious food is provided to faculty and students every day.

“At first, it would be overwhelming if you don’t really have experience working in the kitchen, but I went to culinary school and I’m still going so I have an associate’s degree in this,” Daniel Arenas, a former kitchen intern, said. “I’ve [also] worked in various other restaurants, and for me, it’s rather relaxed, easy because we have everything prepared, we have a set time [and] we know how many students are here, so we always do the same amount.”

Head chef Stephen Martin offers the other members of the kitchen staff the opportunity to participate in creating recipes and menus, creating a cooking style special to the Harker School.

“A lot of times, we don’t have standardized recipes. We’ll have some Chef Steve recipes that have been here forever and ever and ever, and we have people who have been here for a long time, so we created a pretty unique style of cooking and creating recipes and menus,” Martin said.

The chefs work through the morning to prepare for the lunchtime rush, cooking the different foods and making sure the tables are set up neatly. They also label the variety of dishes and note down any possible products that may cause allergies on campus. As the clock ticks closer to lunchtime, the chefs then make sure that the daily pizza is delivered and the pasta is ready. They finish preparations at about a half hour before lunch starts.

The bell rings, and chatter soon fills the cafeteria as a wave of students enters Manzanita Hall. Some students rush to the pizza counter, others head towards the main entrées and a few grab desserts first before joining the mobs surrounding the other counters. Chefs running the Edge work quickly, swiftly preparing, plating and setting the dishes in neat rows onto the counter. Meanwhile, the pastry chef restocks the dessert table with an assortment of sweets. A teacher stands by the entrance to the Edge, controlling the flow of the students into the area. The pattern repeats for the first part of lunch until the stream of students approaching the counters slowly diminishes as they begin to finish their lunches. A line to return plates and silverware begins to form.

The once starving Harker community is satisfied and the kitchen staff initiates their ritual clean up, closing each food station one by one. They rinse the dishes, sweep the floor, wipe down the tables and countertops and start preparations for the next day. The chefs decide whether they can repurpose any of the leftover ingredients the next day and dispose of any other leftovers. 

 

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The student news site of The Harker School.
From Package to Platter: Behind the scenes of the Harker kitchen staff