Life at Miss Hall’sAug 10, 2021
— updated Aug 10, 2021
It’s Not a Cafeteria, It’s a Home
Locally sourced, globally prepared meals, “with a food truck feel”
Executive Chef Russ Sawicki is passionate about food. He’s even more excited to unveil changes in the Miss Hall’s Dining Room when the school year kicks off.
The 2020-21 school year saw many changes, not the least of which were a reconfigured Dining Room, adjustments to serving lines, and take-out boxes for socially distanced dining — inside and outside. “The pandemic was definitely different, but it gave me an opportunity to see what the community wants for food and from their culinary team,” says Chef Russ, who joined MHS in March, 2021. With the School set to re-open in full in the fall, he and his team are working through the summer, planning and experimenting.
“My philosophy is that everything should be welcoming,” he explains. “This is not a school cafeteria. This is a kitchen. This is a home, and it should feel like home.”
Chef Russ’ arrival came after MHS brought its food services in-house in 2020. That move took place when Miss Hall’s and its food provider, Aramark, mutually decided to end their twenty-year partnership. The new Culinary Services Team now handles all food services, special events, and catering on campus.
“Transitioning to in-house culinary provided greater opportunities for us to offer locally sourced and global menu options and to integrate more input from students, faculty, and staff into the dining program,” says Director of Finance & Operations Helen Telfer P’21, whose team headed the transition. As part of the transition, the School set a goal of locally sourcing 50 percent of the food served on campus.
Chef Russ notes that as much food as possible is from local farms, bakers, and other providers. They include Baldor Foods, which sources products from the Hudson Valley, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, and Marty’s Local, which is based in South Deerfield and sources products throughout western Massachusetts — including the Berkshires!
There are items from Formisano Bakery in nearby New York, and yogurt from Saratoga Springs. The hot beverage station features teas from Harney & Sons in Millerton, N.Y., and coffee from Six Depot Roastery in West Stockbridge.
“We’ve made a ton of changes, and we’ll make more. We should be meeting the needs of a diverse community with foods they enjoy.”
From a family of eleven kids, Chef Russ has cooked all his life. Most recently he was Executive Chef and Director of Dining Services at the Forman School, in Litchfield, Connecticut. He previously owned a popular restaurant for seventeen years in West Cornwall, Connecticut. He is a firm believer in the power of food to create community.
“We’ve invested in things to bring people together — a smoker, a grill, a huge paella pan,” he says. “We want to bring people together around food and different cultures, and barbecue, grilling, paella, risottos — all of those bring people together."
As during the pandemic, hot meals are served by a member of the culinary team, rather than buffet-style. One reason is because it encourages conversation. “I want to talk to the students and get to know what they like,” Chef Russ adds. “I want the team to talk to students — and adults. The more we know, the better we can meet their needs.”
The traditional “hot line” highlights what Chef Russ calls a “food truck feel,” with the trademark fancy tacos, grilled cheeses, mac and cheese, and other creations that were a hit with students and adults on campus during the pandemic. The menu also features daily vegetarian, gluten-free, and vegan options, typically twists on the day’s main dish, and there are plenty of traditional favorites, like pasta and burgers.
“One of our goals is eliminating traffic tie-ups,” Chef Russ says of lines that can extend into the Living Room. “One way to do that is to give people options when they come into the Dining Room. They can skip the hot food line and go right to one of the stations.”
• A global foods station — Diners build their own bowls. There is plenty of rice, options for noodles, and a fixing’s bar stocked with proteins, veggies, broths, and sauces. There will be themes: Indian, Asian, Cajun, and whatever else Chef Russ thinks up.
• “Food from the Hearth” — This quick-serve action station is a take on last year’s popular “grab-and-go” lunches. A Culinary team member prepares quick foods — breakfast sandwiches in the morning; Cubano sandwiches at lunch — also to different themes. When History students are studying Greece, gyros are on the menu! And, you don’t have to “grab-and-go,” either. You can grab and sit in the Dining Room.
• Expanded salad bar with homemade dressings. Soups are made fresh daily and a deli bar features freshly roasted meats, a variety of cheeses, and plenty of fixings.
• Panini presses give diners the options of kicking their sandwiches up a notch.
• A “sweet shop” features the day’s deserts, and
• An allergen station offers gluten-free breads, soy and oat milks, and other options for meeting dietary needs.
“We’ve made a ton of changes, and we’ll make more,” says Russ, who happily shares his enthusiasm for the work. “When I met with Head of School Julia Heaton during the interview process, she used the word ‘aspirational,’ and that’s a great word to describe what we are striving for. We should be meeting the needs of a diverse community with foods they enjoy.”