Each month the 10 students serving on the Dining Advisory Committee meet over dinner with two of Bowdoin Dining’s directors — Mary Lou Kennedy, who is the director of dining, and Michele Gaillard, the associate director of operations.
The opinionated group discusses the many things Bowdoin Dining is doing right, while also offering suggestions about what it could do better. The students praise efforts such as the comprehensive recycling and composting program, the chocolate chips at the yogurt stand, the cubed turkey at the salad bar, a recent festive Soul Food night with delicious fried plantains (“I had 50!,” Lizzy Takyi ’17 proclaimed), the grain-based salads and the growing amount of locally sourced ingredients.
“Also, the beef chili was so good on Superbowl Sunday,” Reed Fernandez ’17 said. “It changed my life! I had like 10 bowls.”
And those fresh cookies at The Cafe? Alerts are sent out via twitter when the cookies are taken out of the oven. “They can change a day from bad to good,” Takyi observed. “If you had a horrible exam and pass by there to get a smoothie and cookie, everything is better.”
The group of Bowdoin foodies also see where Dining can become even more responsive to student tastes.
“This is a bit nit-picky,” began Hannah Berman ’18, “but in the mornings when an egg-and-cheese dish isn’t available, it would be nice to have cheese to sprinkle on top of eggs.”
Indre Altman ’18 added that she had polled some of her friends and found that brunch offerings could be diversified. “My friends wake up late and wish there were more salady-grainy-lunchy options for brunch,” she said. Gaillard responded by saying she would make this suggestion to the weekend staff.
Another persistent problem? The macaroni and cheese. Too much bland sauce; students preferred the dish baked, with crispy bits on top. The revelation that the students weren’t over the moon about Dining’s mac and cheese dish had surprised the cooks in the kitchen when the issue was first brought up with them, according to Gaillard. “It was a little bit of a shocker to them,” she admitted.
Fernandez said that Moulton Union’s mac and cheese was quite good when it “has a bit of spice in it. Some kind of smokiness.”
The group discussed ways to improve the mac and cheese situation. Perhaps there should be a mac and cheese cook-off, with students selecting the best dish, Kennedy suggested.
The Dining Advisory Committee is overseen by the Bowdoin Student Government. Harriet Fisher ’17, vice president for student organizations, selected this year’s members. She said that personally, she is very interested in food politics and food justice. “I took it under my wing to build a dynamic committee of students passionate about food and Bowdoin’s dining services,” she explained. “I sent out an application and over 50 students applied, and I selected a group of students with a wide range of experiences and interests, from vegans to those who work for dining services to someone who worked on a film about local food.”
Fernandez, a self-declared “picky eater,” was immediately attracted to the volunteer position. “I came to Bowdoin largely because the food is so good here,” he said. As an afterthought he added, “Well, for the food and the people.”
Berman, an aspiring pastry chef, said she had signed on because she loves food. “I’ve always had a big interest in the process of food and how it gets to the kitchen,” she said.
Altman said she was motivated by her interest in local food movements, while Takyi said that as a Dining employee herself, she wanted to strengthen the relationship between students and Dining staff as well as find ways to reduce food waste.
Dining always tries to keep up with students and their ideas, Gaillard said. The staff encourages “its customers” to leave feedback in various ways, such as by filling out comment cards. Over the years, in response to student wishes, Dining has increased its vegetarian entries (a cauliflower polonaise and carrot casserole were recent main dish options), has offered ever greener and more sustainable produce, fish and meat, and has expanded its salad bars by adding cheese, meats, fruits and grains.
“The one-on-one feedback that we get from the advisory committee allows us to target our improvements to meet student needs,” Gaillard said. “Plus their enthusiasm gets our staff fired up.”