A Day in Life: Working in the Kitchens of Harvard

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Some of the chefs claim even farther origins than just the United States. About one third of the head chefs and sous chefs working for Harvard University Dining Services are from outside the U.S.

Andrea van Wien, a sous chef at Hillel, is from Colombia. “I grew up in the kitchen with my family. I did restaurants and catering, then I went to Le Cordon Bleu, and I did some food development. I had always admired Harvard from all areas, and someone told me it was a great place to work so I came here and applied, and now I’m proud to be here.”

Arlene Richburg, originally from Trinidad and Tobago, is the chef production manager at Adams House and has worked for HUDS for about four years. In her family, with parents who were avid cooks, she said, “food was always an intricate part of growing up.”

According to Richburg, that family background has helped her cultivate her own love of cooking and baking. Richburg said her mother told her that her first word was ‘elicious’ because she could not pronounce ‘delicious.’

Richburg noted that it was her mother’s baking under difficult financial circumstances, that has inspired her in her own cooking.

“Coming from a third-world country it is always challenging; [not] having a lot of money to work with, so you do the best you can. And [my mother] got really creative with [food] so I always just looked to that,” Richburg said.

Still, Richburg said she was not always sure that she wanted to be a chef. Only after visiting Boston on vacation in the 1990s and falling for the city did she decide to move to the area and pursue cooking. After graduating from Brookline-based Newbury College in 1994, she started working at the Museum of Fine Arts, eventually moving her way up to become chef de cuisine or head chef there.

“It was in the restaurant upstairs [in the MFA], and I just about worked at every station in [those] seven years,” Richburg said. “I [had] worked with a lot of great chefs in that environment and I had learned a lot.”

FOOD PROFESSIONALS

After arriving at Harvard, adjusting to the environment after working in different establishments is not always easy, HUDS senior chefs said.

“The system implemented here which we use in our daily productions is called Food Pro,” said Leonard. “And it’s a very complicated system. That was one of the hardest things I had to grasp.”

Chef Donn Leonard of the Dunster and Mather kitchens speaking about his work experience for Harvard University Dining Services.

For more than 15 years, HUDS has used the program Food Pro as a tool to estimate or “forecast” the amount of food they will need each day based on the number of people they think will eat and how much. Though this helps the chefs and the food suppliers in predicting how much of each ingredient needs to be sent to each dining hall and then prepared, the initial difficulties with using Food Pro were shared with all of the chefs.

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