A Taste of HUDS
“I grew up on a farm; my father was a farmer. I could walk out into the field and pick peas and eat them off the vine.” Crista Martin, director of communications for Harvard University Dining Services, sits on a swivel office chair surrounded by piles of papers.
Jiggling her rainbow-socked, clog-clad foot, she continues, “That is my very unique entry-point perspective on food. My mother was a great cook, my sister is a chef—all these things play a role in how I approach food. Every individual has a different approach to food.”
Martin’s office is situated in the basement of the HUDS Human Resources building, across from Pinocchio’s Pizzeria on Winthrop Street. From there, she handles all incoming complaints, requests, and compliments from the nearly 6,600 undergraduate students that HUDS serves on a daily basis.
On any given day, she receives 25 online comments pertaining to HUDS, along with feedback from texts, Facebook, Twitter, and handwritten forms.
Listed last year as the 12th best college dining service in a nationwide ranking by The Daily Meal, HUDS operates 13 dining halls every day during the academic year. According to its website, HUDS serves 25,000 meals a day and five million annually, spending nearly $55 million on its food service.
“There have been different sorts of models, but since the House system was initiated in the early 1900s, this has been it,” Martin says of the current HUDS approach. Having evolved in the University’s 377-year history, HUDS now links houses with food education efforts, and sustainability initiatives.
Dining at Harvard, however, is about much more than its administrative infrastructure. Adams House chef Edward B. Childs affirms, “Our aim is to make it more student-friendly, ‘cause we feel that we work for our customers, which is the students and the University. We don’t necessarily work for management, because management has gone and come.”
THE PERFECT RECIPE
Nestled under 80 JFK St. lies the Culinary Support Group, a bustling central kitchen where HUDS assembles ingredients and ships them off to be served in individual Houses. A network of underground tunnels running from Kirkland to Leverett Houses makes up the Culinary Support Group, where Chef Martin T. Breslin, Chief of Culinary Operations for HUDS, prepares the undergraduate menu.
The Culinary Support Group follows the same procedures one would see in a typical kitchen. Feeding almost 7,000 undergraduates, however, requires a considerably larger amount of manpower and production capabilities. “In an average year, we’re talking about 36,000 gallons of soup in this room, so what we do is, we’ll make the soups today, deliver it to the Houses tomorrow, and serve it in the Houses the following day,” Breslin says.
Before favorites like tomato basil ravioli soup can be served, the Culinary Support Group must prepare it in stages to complete the “cook-chill” process. In one room, chefs slice and dice fresh vegetables, herbs, and spices, to flavor soups and sauces. These are then placed in sizable white vats that are transported and emptied into industrial-sized kettles in another room. These kettles, which have the capacity to store 150 gallons of liquid, are equipped with an agitator that stirs ingredients just as one would stir a normal pot of soup.
Portions of soups and sauces are later distributed in plastic bags that are sent to a tumble chiller, which cools them down to one degree above freezing temperature. A refrigerator that could encompass half of Lamont Café stores all of these bags right until they need to be shipped off to feed hordes of hungry college students.
“Something that should be done in a larger kitchen is what we do here, and it makes for a better product—a consistent product—and we can work with our purchasing department and procure as much local as we can, depending on the season,” Breslin adds in his Irish brogue.
Further along the tunnels, plastic hoses slithering down from Kirkland dhall suck up soda syrup from an organized pile of boxes. Meanwhile, workers rush into Eliot’s underground pantry, next to where trays and plates are sent to a dishwashing station via a conveyor belt known as the “dish super highway,” according to Martin. The tunnels have grown over the years as the University expanded and acquired new buildings.
“We’ve begged, borrowed, and stolen space over the years,” says Martin. “We had to live within the existing footprint of these historic buildings, but meet sort of current demands for how food needs to be made. We take whatever space we can get. Every kitchen is a little bit different.”