By Wendy Carlson
The Dining Hall menu has come a long way from the meat-and-potatoes fare of the School's early years. Today's global student body cares about ethically, sustainably sourced food that reflects a diverse range of cultures.
"We've become more local with the food we serve, but we've also become more international," says Mike Webster, general manager of dining services.
The School's Fairfield Farm supplies about 30 percent of the produce used in the Dining Hall from August through December, and another third of the ingredients — honey, eggs, milk, pork, beef, and vegetables — are sourced from nearby farms. And while pizza has remained a Friday lunch staple, dinner on any evening might be a cultural mashup, like Jamaican jerk chicken with sweet potato, curried black beans, and fried plantains, or an African-themed meal, like goat meat stew. More recently, the Dining Hall has introduced a number of new dishes: hamburgers with grass-fed beef from Whippoorwill Farm, located just a few miles from campus; Asian noodle bowls; and build-your-own chicken parmesan (known as "Parmageddon") are big hits among students.
The sheer volume of food served on a daily basis is mind-boggling. During the last academic year, dining services spent over $1,370,000 on food and served more than 300,000 eggs, 35,000 pounds of chicken, 40,000 pounds of local turkey, and 2,500 pounds of coffee. Over the past few years, dining services has changed the way it procures its food — particularly meats — to support small, local farms. "Instead of serving pre-frozen meat from distant farms, we purchase whole animals from local farmers. It's a great way to keep our money local while supporting our farmers year-round," says Webster. Adams Farm, a USDA-inspected, family-owned business in Athol, Mass., custom cuts and packages the beef, lamb, pork, and bison, and delivers it directly to Hotchkiss. On occasion, the School has purchased whole bison from Mohawk Bison in Goshen, Conn., less than 30 miles away.
Dining at Hotchkiss
When it comes to desserts, the Dining Hall has taken a more conservative approach. Pie, cake, and ice cream were once served at both lunch and dinner; today, dessert is available just once a week, and there are bushel baskets of fresh fruit at every meal. Desserts still might include old standbys like rice crispy treats, apple pie, and double-layer chocolate cake, but there's also locally produced frozen yogurt and an occasional ice cream sundae bar. And there are more choices at each meal: the Dining Hall features a sauté station in addition to the standard salad and deli bar, allowing students to make their own stir-fry dishes using eggs, rice, and fresh vegetables. There's also a designated area for those with special dietary needs or preferences, offering gluten-free bread, non-dairy cheese, Lactaid, and soy milk.
Students take an active role in deciding what food they're served by participating in the Real Food Club (RFC), which audits food purchases twice a year to ensure ethical buying practices. Hotchkiss is one of the top RFC schools in the nation. Students also have the option of joining the Cooking Club, a co-curricular that teaches them culinary skills.
Even the appearance of the Dining Hall has changed to reflect the increasingly diverse student body. Maria Hotchkiss's portrait still presides over the room, but 87 flags, representing all the countries in the Hotchkiss community, hang from the beams. Despite all these changes, the Dining Hall remains a place where students, faculty, and staff come together as a community. "What I really like about it," says lower mid Emily Swenson, "is that this is a place where I can have some downtime and just be among friends."
This story appeared in the Winter/Spring 2017 issue of Hotchkiss Magazine.