This article originally appeared in the spring 2011 Harker Quarterly.
While students at all schools sit at the edge of their seats waiting for the lunch bell, Harker students at all three campuses have a particularly good reason to look forward to lunchtime. Harker students dash off to a tasty and healthy lunch of hand-carved meats, salads, fruits and a variety of fresh, in- season dishes.
For 20 years, Steve Martin, executive chef, has worked closely with a team of chefs and interns from various culinary schools to incorporate the freshest ingredients and healthy options into each day’s menu. After working for years in Boston for a contract food service, Martin realized that the business was more about profit than nutrition.
“At Harker, it’s about eating the best you can eat,” he said. “Howard and Diana Nichols were so caring and concerned about everything, and food was one of those things.”
With the goal of matching food quality to the quality of education in classrooms and providing a balanced diet, Martin purchases local, fresh and in-season produce and occasionally works with a nutritionist to determine what dishes to cook. Tomatoes and small vegetables from Harker’s garden also make it onto plates. “I buy the best ingredients,” he said. “I spend my budget on quality, not quantity. We buy a lot of ingredients and make things from scratch.”
On any given day, upper school students can choose from selections in the buffet line including a full entrée with meat, veggies and rice or potatoes; a vegetarian entrée; a la carte pasta; an assortment of prepared fresh salads, soup, rice, healthy fruit juices and low fat milk.
In the adjacent Bistro Café there is a full salad bar with a variety of dressings, a meat station with hand carved fish or meat, an array of deli salads, baskets
of bananas, apples and oranges and, at least a couple days a week, delicious cookies. Occasionally, Martin rents a smoker, and students have a selection of smoked chicken, brisket and ribs to add to their meals.
The middle school campus offers similar selections, though without quite the variety, but certain dishes are only served once a week to prevent students from always selecting pizza and fried foods as a midday meal. “First and foremost the food we serve is healthy,” Danae McLaughlin, assistant to the executive chef, said. “It is not processed food loaded with fat and sodium … and we are very creative in our use of whole grains and vegetables so the kids enjoy eating them.”
Lower school students also have similar restrictions and policies that limit pizza to once a week. “If you take a look at the lower school menu,” McLaughlin added, “the desserts include a lot of fresh fruit.” The kindergartners sit in a designated area and are served pre-portioned food. In addition, two kitchens are staffed to offer a variety of foods including falafel, samosas, Swedish meatballs and frittatas.
Students enjoy diversity, and Martin aims to present a sampling of multicultural offerings while maintaining a healthy selection. “I don’t think the kids even realize that they are eating healthier,” Martin joked.
Junior Rohit Sanbhadti, grade 11, loves the school’s tomato and basil soup and, as a vegetarian, is surprised by the variety and choices Harker offers. “I think we’re really lucky to have food of this caliber,” he said.
Martin credits his permanent staff and a rotating team of interns for their creative ideas and enthusiasm. Hailing from prestigious culinary schools including Le Cordon Bleu, California Culinary Academy in San Francisco and Martin’s alma mater, Johnson & Wales in Rhode Island, more than 100 interns have joined the Harker community for a semester to experience various facets of food services from menu planning to cold kitchen cooking to inventory control and purchasing. “We work hard to create a culture where culinary creativity and entrepreneurial spirit thrive,” Martin said.
Intern Alicia Parke Galou said her time at Harker has been a “great experience right from the beginning.” She discovered Harker’s internship program at a career fair at the Professional Culinary Institute in Campbell, where she met McLaughlin and Martin. “I thought it would be a great opportunity for me,” Galou said, noting she has enjoyed every moment of it. The ease with which she fell into the swing of Harker’s program allowed her to learn quickly about the important factors of cooking for more than 800 people a day.
Along with serving student lunches, Harker’s kitchens prepare even higher quality meals for a wide variety of school events, from small lunches for donors or visiting educators to full banquets for student groups and parent gatherings, like the Senior Mothers’ Lunch held each spring prior to graduation. “Not having to contract with outside vendors allows us to control costs and provide a higher quality meal,” noted McLaughlin. “Plus, at these limited events, our staff doubles as servers, giving permanent and temporary staff valuable experience in presentation and timing.”
Thanks to Martin and his team, Harker’s food service program is recognized as innovative and Martin believes it will only grow and expand. “The program just keeps getting better and better because that’s what Harker wants,” he said.
For more information, go to news.harker. org and search on “food,” or contact Steve Martin at email@example.com.