It’s 3:30 p.m. Tuesday in Commons, and your senses are on high alert as Dining Services prepares the evening meal.
There’s the smell of baked goods. The sting in your eyes from freshly diced onions. The flicker of flame inside the brick oven. And all around, quick conversations as staff glide past one another.
Before you realize it, an hour has passed, the doors open, the students flood in.
Dinner, and your taste buds, are now served.
“Food is nourishment. It makes you whole,” says Michael Staffenski, Dining Services sous chef.
The “whole” in this sense also means the whole Bates community, which comes together in the college’s single dining hall.
“The students live here, so this is their home, this is their kitchen,” Staffenski continues. “It’s our mission to provide all the things that their kitchen at home does, whether it’s an ear to listen or the comfort of warm soup when you’re not feeling well. It’s support: a little bit of everything.”
And there’s fun in the kitchen, too, For Daisy Taylor, bakery supervisor, the fun comes “when I get to be adventurous.”
Sure, she and her colleagues turn out the beloved cookies and muffins. “That’s pretty cookie-cutter,” she says, pun intended. But when a catering order comes in, “I get to put my own little spin on things. I definitely like that, and I think people appreciate what we put out. It’s a good feeling.”
Ricky Michalak, a Dining Services first cook, was handling the vegan station Tuesday night. One approach he uses is to “take meals that I like personally and see how I can make them vegan.“
One of his favorite creations is the Thai lettuce wrap made with fried tempeh. “They’re really sweet, really good. Even non-adventurous eaters will love it.”
And he doesn’t mind if students, famous for their ad hoc creations, don’t use the wrap as a wrap, “instead sprinkling it on their own salad or doing whatever with it. It all works out very well.
“It’s a busy station. Fun and challenging,” he adds. “I feel like everyone should be challenged at whatever they do.”