Behind the Scenes With Sage Dining

A Magnet editor goes behind the serving line with the staff who keep us all fed.

Cassidy Polga, Editor-in-Chief

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“What soup is out there?”

“Vegetarian.”

“No, oh, it’s Beef Noodle.”

“Do you want me to heat some more up?”

This is only a snippet of the many different conversations taking place at any given time in the MacDuffie kitchen, a place that many students and faculty see everyday but rarely get the chance to explore. I recently spent a block with the Sage Dining staff to learn a bit more about what it takes to prepare three meals a day for 300 people.

Stepping into the kitchen (wearing gloves and a baseball cap, of course), I am greeted by a scene of weaving, ducking, white-clad workers; some carry trays of food, while others stir massive pots of soup on even larger stoves. The Sage staff call to each other across the room, laughing, as they work.

It is E block, and today is breakfast for lunch, which guarantees a steady stream of hungry students and faculty, says Manager Jonathan Burdick. Lunches are always the busiest meal of the day, followed by Monday and Tuesday dinners. Burdick explains to me that the staff are constantly working on preparing upcoming meals, which is partly why the kitchen is so busy.

“It’s controlled chaos–,” he begins.

“We need pancakes!”

“Coming right up.” With a smile, Burdick goes to answer Dawn, who mans the serving station along with fellow staff member Trisha Silkes every day. Each Sage worker is in charge of a specific area of the kitchen: Jim Egge’s on the salad bar, and Nina cooks all the soups. As I watch, Egge pulls greens and prepared steak out of the fridge, then tosses the ingredients in a mixing bowl with practiced efficiency. Most of the salad is stored back in the fridge for later meals, the rest is nicely displayed out in the bar.

The kitchen, to my untrained eye, is a masterpiece of scripted action. A large cork board is covered in block schedules, carefully delineated time slots, and a recipe for griddle cakes, which was created by Burdick.

Having avoided a pancake shortage, Burdick finds me mesmerized by staff member Nina carefully drizzling frosting over a batch of cinnamon rolls, and leads me through the kitchen to an impressively mysterious door.

Inside is a cooler, the oldest in the building, its marble walls lined with racks of frozen food. I foolishly assume that this is the only kitchen storage space, until I follow Burdick across the hall, through his office, and into the real coolers, massive industrial steel beasts which house meats, tofu, and many more items in bulk. Standing in the 10 degree freezer, I feel a bit like Alice falling down the rabbit hole; it’s odd to learn that there is a part of the school building which I did not know existed for six years.

Coming back into the main kitchen, Burdick makes sure to point out the compost bins, which are full of scraps destined for World Language Head Kevin Hillman’s garden, and another faculty member’s pet chickens. The Sage staff also makes sure to recycle. “We try to do what we can, you know?” Burdick says.

As my tour comes to a close, Burdick and I pause to appreciate the bustle of the lunch rush. “It’s kind of like Groundhog Day,” he says, “different menus every day, but same process.”

The staff will continue working their magic until the last of the F block stragglers depart, and the dinner shift comes in. Then, they will go home, sleep, and get ready for the next day. I thank everyone, take off my cap and gloves, and leave, slipping into the lunch line.

I make sure to snag one of the mesmerizing cinnamon rolls.

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Behind the Scenes With Sage Dining