Culinary craftsmen: A behind-the-scenes look at Sage Dining

Investigative

Anyone who has spent any amount of time at KO has likely eaten at the cafeteria at least once. Between optional paid breakfasts, lunch, and special events that require food, Sage Dining and its staff are in charge of all culinary experiences on campus. 

Staffed by members of Sage Dining, the group is responsible for preparing, cooking and serving meals as well as ensuring that the cafeteria is adequately stocked with utensils and other needed supplies. 

Currently, the group of people who work for Sage Dining at KO totals 10 people: Food Servics Coordinator Brian Woerlen, Jason Hunt, Ismael Alweshah, Paula Vieira, Paul MacNeill, Carmen Gutierrez, Taneesha Woodingham, Khalid Alweshah, Mae Marques, and Henok Gezahy, encompassing many different roles. 

Each food “station” within the cafeteria has a person assigned to it, often with one person assigned to multiple tasks or multiple people assigned to one task. In addition to the food stations, some also work behind the scenes as dishwashers. Each person has a role assigned to them in order to keep the cafeteria running smoothly and efficiently 

The average day for someone who works at the KO cafeteria begins bright and early, with many members of the team waking up by 5:00 a.m. to  arrive at the school between 6 and 6:30 a.m. to begin preparations for the day’s meals. For Jason, who is assigned to work the deli and salad bar stations, his day begins with cooking and preparing all of the food items for his stations. 

“I have to cook salad bar items like whatever grains I might have,” said Jason. “I have to cook everything, cool it, cut all the meats, and make the tuna salad. Whatever you see [on the salad and deli bars], I make everything.”  

Through his morning, he will cook and prepare every item set on the salad and deli stations, but he likely will not be working alone. 

Although there are individualized roles, the preparation of the day’s food and the cafeteria as a whole is a team effort. “We all chip in for prep,” said Mae, “and we all just do whatever we have to do to execute it, and the back will put it all together and cook it and then we serve it. ”

Preparations do not only entail prepared foods, but also smaller tasks more likely to be overlooked by the average person in the cafeteria. These are things like preparing and wrapping the bread for the sandwich station, refilling the utensils and cups, and setting out and organizing the serving stations. 

Not only do these preparations include lunch, but also the breakfast Sage Dining provides as well. Running from 7:00 a.m. through 10:00 a.m., breakfast has to be set out and ready long before the school-wide lunches, which usually begin between 11:00 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. Once breakfast has wrapped up around 10:00 a.m., lunches for all students begin soon after, creating the busiest part of the day, a rush that lasts for approximately two hours. In addition to preparing the food for the day, during the lunch hours, food is not only served but each station of food maintained to ensure they are fully stocked and hygenic. 

“During the course of lunch, I’ll watch both my stations,” Jason explained. Not only is the preparation of any food in the morning a team effort, so is the entirety of the work day for the staff.  “We all converge to help each other,” Jason said. 

When asked what the KO community could do to make their jobs and day-to-day routine easier, much of the same sentiment was expressed: ensuring that the community cleans up after themselves and does not leave a mess at the tables or the food stations. As an example, Jason explained that when people decide to get fruit from the salad bar, an easy change is holding the cup or bowl over the larger container instead of leaving them on the side and carrying the fruit over to the side. As a result, less fruit will be left on the side of the salad station, leaving less of a mess and making the station cleaner overall. Students also agreed with the sentiment that students should clean up after themselves better. 

“The KO community could  do a better job of cleaning up after ourselves,” said junior Annabelle Jacobs. “It would not only make the lives of the cafeteria staff easier but also create a cleaner environment for the whole community. 

In addition, Jason pointed out how helpful communication from students can be. “If anybody ever spills anything, you can tell any single one of us,” said Jason. 

While the workday is certainly not an easy one for the Sage Dining Staff, many say that the interactions with the students and staff of KO make it all worth it. “The kids are what’s kept me here,” said Mae. “I just like to talk with the kids and interact with them.” Jason agreed. “I really like to be able to go and talk with people,” he said. “A job’s a job. Whatever job you’re going to do you have to get the task done. The other aspects, being able to talk to people, I love it.”

The feelings seem to be mutual, as much of the community truly appreciates what the members of Sage Dining do. “I really appreciate everything they do for us,” senior Garrett Gallup said. “They always make sure we leave lunch well-fed and happy.”

Senior Olivia Reynolds agreed. “The dining staff is so nice whenever they’re serving you,” she said. “They’re always sure to check in about portion size or if you have any dietary restrictions. As you leave the line, they always tell you to have a nice day. You can tell they truly care.”  

This was a very common sentiment across the KO community, with every student interviewed expressing their appreciation for the staff.“I love Sage Dining because the staff always make me feel at home. They’re always so friendly and welcome,” senior Ben Baby said.

The relationships between the cafeteria staff and rest of the KO community are unique and close. Not only are the cafeteria staff cooking up daily meals, but they are serving them with a side of kindness.