When I visited the WCC kitchens on a dreary Wednesday afternoon, the kitchen was aflutter with the swishing of white chef robes, ringing of pots and pans, the sizzle of the grill, and the blast of the two massive double-decker French door convection ovens.
I found my way through the steaming, bustling crowd, and Head Chef Ben Resnick and Chef Peter Byerlein greeted me at Mr. Resnick’s office, at the back of the kitchen. I asked them a few questions, started recording, and we embarked on our tour.
They explained that lunch is made from scratch “99% of the time” (the exception being times when several events occur on the same day), and the menu is created a month in advance, decided upon “from student feedback and a nutritional standpoint.” For the Upper and Middle School combined, roughly 600 entrees are served daily; on popular days, like grilled cheese or pizza days, 800 entrees are served, and on Meatless Mondays, 450 are served.
The staff of 10 cashiers, dishwashers, and cooks arrive at 6:00 am every morning to start cooking, and cleanup and leave at 2:00 pm, but cashier Marina Castillo works until 7:00 pm to serve snacks and keep the WCC open until closing time.
As with other kitchen staff, Mr. O’Hagen is known to Lakeside students as “Michael.” The first-name basis gives an impression of friendliness and familiarity between staff and students.
Next to Michael is Peter’s station, where he preps and makes 100-120 sandwiches daily from scratch (including sauces—Peter makes his own garlic aioli and hummus!). He showed me his fridge, explaining his mise en place, or the culinary setup required before cooking.
Peter also showed me his bulletin board, which is full of events that require Lakeside catering (which is also under the umbrella of Lakeside food services). He had a full page of necessary preparations, and I saw that the catering service has roughly 8 events from Wednesday to Sunday, ranging from twenty two people to 100 or more. Ben estimates that Lakeside catering “does about 350 events every year, on top of the normal breakfast and lunch.”
Flora de Jesus Caballero maintains the salad bar for both the Upper and Middle School, and takes on cashier duties. Peter showed me her station, praising her finesse with the knife, and her double-door refrigerator, describing the various fruits and vegetables for the salad bar.
We then visit the griddle, where Chef Seyed Mahoutchi makes breakfast. Chef Mahoutchi, along with Susan Fodor, also takes food production down to the Middle School and serves lunch.
In the underbelly of the WCC, walls are filled with boxes, dishes, and kitchen appliances. There’s a table for breaks, layered with copies of the New York and Seattle Times, and a garage in which Ben and Sous Chef Juan Mendoza receive shipments. We went into the pantry, and I visited two walk-in freezers, filled with dairy, meats, produce, beverages, and racks of entrees and desserts that had been prepared earlier in the week; as Ben explains, they’ve “been a little short-staffed with illnesses, so [the kitchen staff] have been trying to prep up a day before.”
On the way back up, Ben explained that they all do multiple jobs to limit costs, so Marina does towels and in-house laundry. As for cleanup, Peter said that although it takes a while, “Michael is very quick on closing,” and Ben added that kitchen staff “try to clean as [they] go… like Peter cleaned the chicken, and then we go ahead and sanitize the whole table down afterwards, and we start working on something else. Then it’s ready to go.”
During my tour, cashiers Marina and Ed Schave had been cleaning the WCC (they also deliver catering), Genevieve Moaalii had been manning her $30000 dishwasher (she also helps prepare the entrees), and Juan had been preparing entrees. At the Middle School, Souksakhone Mangala had been cashiering, and Bryan Sloane and Laila Berrada had been cleaning dishes.
Seyed shouted something, and Ben told me, “That’s Seyed; he talks a lot. That’s part of his job.” Seyed said he’s “responsible for making trouble.” I then asked him about the bacon he’s preparing; Ben responded that Seyed goes through roughly 48-50 lbs. of bacon a week, making breakfast for the Upper and Middle Schools.
I noticed a basket of green pepper tops sitting on the counter. Peter explains that Seyed made stuffed peppers today; to reduce waste and maintain sustainability, the scraps will be de-stemmed and diced for use in the salad bar.
We walk around a bit, touring the various curios of the kitchen, end up back at Ben’s office. I asked him about his personal preferences and he gestured around his office, the walls stacked with vibrant spices, pastes, and oils. He loves East Asian cuisine.
The next day, the kitchen staff will come in to prepare the following day’s entree and cook, wash, stock, and clean, serving the Lakeside faculty, staff, and student body. In Ben’s words, “it’s a pretty good operation for a team of 10.”