What’s Cooking at Groton?

talia-kitchenA typical morning at Groton starts off with a quick routine in the dorm and a trip to the dining hall. As you walk up the spiral staircase, you see the various portraits of past headmasters and the colossal umbrellas hanging from the ceiling. On your left is the upper school side; ahead is the senior platform; and on the right is where lower school students enjoy their meals.

Every morning, students can always count on scrambled eggs and muffins. On Sundays, the waffle station is open for students can choose between a cold and hot brunch. In the serving stations, there are always bowls of fruits waiting to be eaten. During the winter term, soup is served at lunch and Panini grills are always available for use. As the weather gets colder, hot chocolate and tea will be ready by the counters for students to enjoy on a chilly winter’s day. At dinner, students prefer to eat the served food with a salad from the accessible ready-to-go salad bar. Overall, the food at Groton is quite good; some say it’s better at many other boarding schools. However, after conducting a survey of 100 current Grotonians, a significant number of students still agree that there are several improvements that could be made in order to further raise the dining hall standard.

From a recent poll through SurveyMonkey, a recurring suggestion was the need for more comfort foods to be served. Rather than fancy dishes such as “Sweet and Spicy Lemon Glazed Beef” and “Sauerbraten Salmon,” students would prefer home-cooked-style meals. This is one of several reasons why the recently served “bread bowls” were a huge hit amongst the students. “I think that making students feel like they’re at home is more important than feeding students fancy things like the Hibiscus chicken they served us on the first day of school,” says Rohan Varkey ‘18. “I loved the soup bowls because it helped me endure the cold weather that day, and it tasted really good.”

It seems like the students are telling the dining hall not to try too hard. “Simple is good. I like chicken, but it doesn’t need blueberry sauce. I like sandwiches, but they don’t need Dijon.”

Vegetarians have a completely different perspective. From the total student population, there are roughly 20 students at Groton who prefer not to eat red meat or any meat in general. However, there is certainly not one meal served at the dining hall without any kind of meat. It is definitely a struggle for them because they have fewer choices of food than most students. Manjari Ganti ‘14, a vegetarian, said, “I think we definitely need more [vegetarian] options in the dining hall. I used to be a vegetarian even before I came to Groton, but the options always limit me. On most of the days, the menu fluctuates among pork, beef, chicken and even turkey, but the vegetarians are left with a half-empty stomach.”

Like Manjari, many students prefer to have the salad bar rather than the served hot food because their diets do not match, but this goes for many athletes as well. Even students who are not vegetarians believe that there should be fresher lettuce at the salad bar and more vegetarian protein sources. In order to promote a healthy and all-round school environment, it is important to have a variety of choices and styles.

Another stressed suggestion was the need of better quality international food. At the recent International Community Advising Program (ICAP), a number of students mentioned having their homeland food. It is always nice to have a tangible part of your culture with you when you are far away from your family and home. Another anonymous survey participant said, “More “cultural” food (Asian/Mexican/Indian cuisine etc.) and if possible, more accurate versions of them. Please no more ‘Americanized Curry Chicken’ with thick Naans or sweet Kimchi.”

However, despite all of these critiques of the food currently being served, there also have been various additions that have made the students’ dining experiences more fun, such as the smoothie bars and the current seasonal changes. During an interview with Jed Coughlin, the head of the dining hall department, he mentioned the lack of direct requests from students being sent. Though it might seem like an unapproachable task to tell him what you want, it is much simpler than it seems.

“Email me or send suggestions,” said Mr. Coughlin. “The bread bowl idea came from a friend of ours at the Rivers School and we kicked it up a notch. He offered two soups and we offered five. The smoothie bar, for example, was brought up through the dietitian, Christin Saucier. She went to the Third Form boys co-curricular and encouraged them to email me what they wanted. That day, I remember getting 50 emails and eventually they got results. Now we have it all day every Wednesday. What also drives the menu though is local availability. We draw of a ton of local produce coming from the surrounding area. Everybody already knows that because all they have to do is read the board or all they have to do is go to their MySchoolDining App. If you’re wondering “what’s for lunch today?” hit that app and it will tell you exactly what you need,” says Mr. Coughlin. The dining hall at Groton is always very open to further developments and preferences students have.

As for small changes, like availability of the sandwich stations and cereal at night, a direct request to Mr. Coughlin is the best way. “If we were to open up the stations during the night time, when is the best convenient day to open them for students?” he asks.

The real problem isn’t that the Dining Hall is not responsive to the students’ suggestions. In fact, it is wide open for suggestions. All you need to do is ask. Then you might get your favorite dish for dinner the next day.

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