Most undergraduates are still asleep during the early hours of the morning when many of the Harvard University Dining Services staff begin their days preparing the meals for the College’s more than 6000 students.
For those who work in the kitchens, everything has to be done in advance to make sure that all that is required for each meal is on hand. Menus have to be tested, prepared, and revised many weeks beforehand.
Despite this preparedness, being a chef in the Harvard undergraduate dining halls also means being ready for the unexpected. Sometimes, a shortage of an important ingredient means revising the menu. Entrees can become so popular that they are finished long before the meal time is over, requiring the quick creation of a replacement dish. Other times, recipes have to be rearranged after discussions in weekly meetings in order to accommodate the ever-changing tastes of the student body and make sure it’s better the next time it appears.
Preparing the meals in all of the thirteen undergraduate dining halls seven days a week requires a carefully calibrated top-down effort, but it is also work of individual chefs, working on the ground and in the kitchens of each of Harvard’s Houses. Though these chefs vary in age, prior experience, and time at the College, they collectively work to meet the unique challenge of feeding a large undergraduate population and their varied tastes.
A MEDLEY OF BACKGROUNDS
Like Harvard students, the chefs that staff House kitchens come from many diverse backgrounds. No two chefs are alike and they arrive on campus with a wide assortment of stories and family histories, like chef Ted Smith, senior chef production manager at Quincy House and Hillel, who graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y.
“I worked as a corporate chef for 15 years,” Smith said. “[I worked] at country clubs, city clubs, and moved on to Boston University for a few years.”
Many of the chefs have similar paths to Smith’s, albeit with a few alterations. Chef Donn S. Leonard, senior chef production manager of the Dunster-Mather kitchens, graduated from Johnson and Wales University.
“During school I worked at ten restaurants,” Leonard said in an early April interview at Harvard University Dining Services administrative offices on Winthrop St. “After graduation, I worked at the Marriott Corporation in the Health Department and rehab centers. Then I went on to New Horizons [at] Choate, Woburn retirement home for a few years.”
Leonard arrived at Harvard’s kitchens after his sister, who had worked for Harvard at the time, recommended that Leonard should apply to work for the University as well. Leonard was hired and started to work at Lowell House in 1995.