It's Friday night just shy of 5:30 p.m. and a line is already forming inside the dining hall. The evening's menu features Peruvian specialties, including Lomo Saltado, a beef stir-fry, and pastel de quinoa, a casserole made from the ancient grain.
Food Services produces special meals throughout the year, including a Thanksgiving feast and the Boar’s Head Dinner, but this is just an ordinary weeknight. The menu is part of Food Committee Fridays, a meal introduced to the School community by a member of the Food Committee, the student advisory board to Food Services.
Fifth Former Mateo Welch coordinated with Director of Food Services Kurt Ellison and Executive Chef Steven Stinnett on his bill of fare. “I’m doing a Peruvian-themed night because my mother is from Peru,” explained Welch. "What we need to have on the menu is some kind of starch, and I chose yuca. It's a South American tuber, it's like a potato, but a bit thicker, a bit denser. The way you cook it is you fry them then bake them. They are just like French fries, but starchier and tastier."
Food Committee Fridays started last year, and have added a personal touch to mealtime. “They are going to their mothers and grandmothers for recipes,” said Ellison. Recent meals have expressed students’ cultural backgrounds through cuisine, among them Italian, Cuban, and Jamaican.
Ellison credits Stinnett’s versatility with making these requests a reality. Stinnett, now in his second year at SPS, is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. Throughout his career, he has spent time abroad honing his skills. Adding to Stinnett’s expertise is the department’s commitment to using sustainable seafood, locally sourced produce, and humanely-raised meats from Niman Ranch.
In weekly meetings, the Food Committee meets with Ellison, Stinnett, Assistant Director of Food Services Larry Fischer, and School nutritionist Erica Mumford to create meals that the kids are eager to eat, but that also provide a gastronomic education. “It gives me a direction on what they are looking for,” remarked Stinnett. "It helps tremendously. It takes a lot of the guesswork out of it."
Committee member, Sixth Former Ally Cong appreciates the efforts taken to bring a variety of culinary traditions to the School community. “I’ve had a lot of exposure to a bunch of different foods, but a lot of people here haven’t," she said. “By being here, they’ve experienced a lot of new foods and cultures. They may not like it, but they’ve tried it.”
The Food Committee is also responsible for selecting menu regulars, such as specialty sandwiches and fruits for the morning smoothie bar. When the group persists with deep-fried suggestions, Mumford chimes in with healthy alternatives. “(Ellison) wants to be big on choice, so I try to make sure a good amount of those choices are healthy, too,” said Mumford. “There is a balance.”
The group's other duty is to offer thoughtful options for the monthly meatless day. This task leads to heated conversations. Not only do the students want to make these days as tasty as the others, but their efforts serve a higher purpose: Money saved from forgoing traditional proteins help aid SPS’s sister school, Christ-Roi School in Leger, Haiti.
"Last year all of the proceeds helped build solar panels to power the school's well," explained Cong. "I think that's why people feel so passionate about meatless days."