The Director of Dining Services talks about cooking for 1,300, tracking down a bargain, and shooting for the Top 10.
Rosemary Stackpole comes from a cooking family. Her Irish grandmother was a professional cook in England, and her mother had the same talent. "I've always loved to cook," Stackpole says. When she is not supervising her staff, she's often looking through her favorite cooking magazines (Cook's Illustrated and Fine Cooking) for tempting new recipes and figuring out how to multiply them for hungry hordes of students. Before joining the staff of the college in 1979, she earned a degree in hotel management at Paul Smiths College in upstate New York. She also has a bachelor's degree in nutrition and dietetics. And yes, she does all the cooking at home. And rarely eats out.
You're cooking for a pretty big "family." How many people do you feed every day?
It's hard to say how many people we feed, but we have 3,500-4,000 registered transactions a day in Davison and the Coffee Shop. Of our students, 1,365 are on a residential meal plan and others are on optional meal plans and eat here whenever they want. They might have
dinner or just get a muffin or some ice cream. Staff and faculty and visitors eat here too.
How many people does it take to provide all that?
We have 75 permanent staff at Davison plus 50 students. In the Coffee Shop and Pub there are 34 staff members and 35 students. I'm thrilled with my staff . They work so, so hard. No matter what happens, we have to feed the students. If there's a snowstorm or someone's out sick or an oven breaks down, we still have to have the food out and the quality has to be the same. They get it done no matter what.
What about special events like the annual Christmas feast or an open house for Admission?
People are always surprised at the number of events we do. We cater all kinds of events on campus, from awards banquets and VIP luncheons to coffee and cookies for a meeting. The heaviest times are the beginning and the end of the school year. In April, we did 114 special events.
Were you excited to get the rating of 17th best college food service from the Princeton Review?
That was two years ago. Last year we were number 11. We need to be in the top 10. Before I retire, I’d like to see us be number one.
What do you think is the reason for the high ratings?
We buy the best quality and manage it carefully. Today in this industry you can buy everything prepared. We make everything from scratch. We make bread, rolls, ciabatta, pizza dough, paninis; the only bread we buy is the sandwich bread for the deli.
How do you handle big events like presidential debates?
They are a tremendous amount of work. When we hosted back to back Democratic and Republican primary debates in 2007, we fed 500 members of the media in the Carr Center. You never know what to expect. We got a call from CNN saying, “It’s Anderson Cooper’s 40th birthday, is there any way we can get champagne and a sheet cake for 11:00 when he gets off the air?” We don’t want to say no. The day after the debates, there was something on a website called News for the Newsies that said, “the parking was a little remote but the food rocks!”
How do you meet special dietary needs?
We try very hard to meet individual needs. Students can meet with the chef and talk about what foods and recipes work for them, so if they have a dairy free or gluten free diet, they always have choices. They can bring a recipe from home.
What are the students’ favorite foods? Have they changed much since you started here?
Certainly, they always love the comfort foods like mac and cheese and chicken parm. Recently I tried an apple cider chicken breast and it’s become as popular as chicken parm. But their tastes are much more sophisticated now, and they are much more aware of eating healthy foods. We used to serve mostly corn and peas, but now they like bok choy and broccoli raab. They love fruits. We go through 200-300 pounds of salad a day and at least 200 cups of yogurt. On the other hand, we sell 30-50 pounds of bulk candy a day. It goes up during exams.
Do most colleges outsource food services now?
The number of self operated food services has been shrinking. About 75 percent have gone with contractors. When Saint Anselm was going to outsource, we made a proposal that was accepted. You don’t get the dedication when you use contractors instead of your own staff.
What are the most recent innovations you've made?
I'm always looking for ways to make things smoother or to save money. We needed a bread slicing machine and they cost about $6,000. I found one on Craigslist for $1,200. We drove up to Maine and bought it and it works perfectly.
Do you ever eat at other colleges to check out the competition?
I would love to, but I don’t have the time!
What are the rewards of this job?
People express their thanks all the time. That keeps your spirits up. A student will come in and say, “I love the bleu cheese dip, could I get the recipe?” Or, “My father loves your whoopee pies. Can I take 10 home for Christmas?”