Students might notice the food at Brown Hall is a little different this year. Paula Henchion, who was previously our executive chef, has become general manager for Sodexo. Taking over from Bassanio Tsang, she has already been making some changes and she’s excited to continue changes throughout the year. Below, she talks about her plans for the SMUS dining hall.
What inspired you to pursue cooking as a career?
I originally came from a music background where I loved and enjoyed the creativity and range that came with music. I saw too, the endless possibilities in creativity with flavours and styles in food and the implementation of these. Food is such a great wealth of comfort for so many people. It can sustain health, encourage sustainability, promote entertainment and of course, camaraderie.
What are some of your favourite foods or ingredients?
Cilantro is one of my favourite herbs, but any fresh, homemade breads, or cookies have got to be my favourite food. Everything about the wonderful aroma of baking is such a warm, comforting atmosphere around a kitchen. This is the type of comfort that we hope to transfer over to the students who are so far away from home.
What are some of the challenges of cooking for so many people? How do you manage them?
I would have to say that the most important challenge on a daily basis is the differing tastes of our guests, and, of course, dietary restrictions. To be successful with these, it is important to have a great culinary team who not only is very conscientious with food quality and food safety, but also very knowledgeable. We are very fortunate that we do have such a great team in Brown Hall.
How does Brown Hall work with students to make sure they are meeting everyone’s needs?
So far this school year, we have had lots of feedback from the school community, and it is this sort of communication that we really want to encourage. We also meet regularly with the student food committee and take many of their comments or suggestions. We input as many as is practical within limitations of the kitchen. We will also be distributing surveys about half way through the term to get a better idea of the student’s feelings on Brown Hall and what they would like to add/omit.
We have put into place many suggestions. Though some can be done overnight, many more take planning and additional funds. We were very fortunate this summer that the Parents’ Auxiliary funded the purchase of three smoothie blenders, which we are currently using every weekend for brunch. This has received much favourable response. Other changes have been for dietary restrictions, for example, the isolating of a gluten-free toaster to prevent any possible cross contamination. Also, we are using cage-free eggs in all our breakfast items, which have more flavour than regular eggs, and we’re purchasing local produce whenever we can.
What are some of your plans for this year? Any big changes?
We are planning on also putting online surveys into place which will help us predict what the students would like to see. Some of these surveys will be just one question, so as to not take up too much time, but yet get the feedback that we need to keep our momentum going. We also will be working on communicating more, so the whole school community will know what changes and exciting initiatives will be happening in Brown Hall. This will help give the school community a better chance to make use of any and new items happening in the dining room.
What do you think makes for a great meal?
Take 8 oz of good company, 8 oz of good food, and 8 oz of good stories. Mix all together and wait for laughter and smiles.