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Bill Brogan, Conference and Catering Manager, St John’s College, Cambridge

Visit to the US gives catering manager food for thought

Bill Brogan gets some tips on a visit to Harvard University

Posted by Hannah Oakman | November 28, 2016 | Catering & hospitality

By Bill Brogan, Conference and Catering Manager, St John’s College, Cambridge

A recent visit to the States gave me the opportunity to visit Harvard University, in Cambridge, Massachusetts and see at first hand how they cater for their 1,661 students on a daily basis.

My trip coincided with Harvard’s Freshman Event for new students and I was lucky enough to dine in Dunster Hall, one of the university’s oldest establishments which was very busy as it was the start of term. You pay a set fee – the price is a lot higher than we charge in Cambridge – and then help yourself to anything you need, including drinks and tea or coffee.

Dunster dining hall

Coffee shops everywhere were all very busy and open until late, which is understandable when you remember that in the US you can’t drink alcohol until you are 21 years of age.

I also visited a restaurant, just outside the Campus which is receiving rave reviews. Called Harvest, it uses just local seasonal products and is popular with students and Professors alike.

Perhaps my most innovative catering experience was the Clover Food Lab which started out as a cutting-edge food truck and now has four outlets across Boston.

It gives a whole new meaning to ‘fresh and seasonal produce’ and here in the UK we could learn some lessons! For instance it makes its own beer and juice, uses vegetables delivered that day and has an ever-changing list of specialist coffees made from beans only in season for a few days. These are sourced from across the world – from Costa Rica to Ethiopia.

You can eat in or take away and the daily changing menu is displayed electronically on the wall – where there’s also a live Twitter feed for customers to watch.

Our food philosophy is driven by simplicity. I’d rather have you shocked by how delicious our turnip soup tastes than impress you with an exotic ingredient or fancy technique or flowery menu description - Ayr Muir, Founder and CEO of Clover Food Lab

Founder and CEO of Clover Food Lab, Ayr Muir says: “Our food philosophy is driven by simplicity. I’d rather have you shocked by how delicious our turnip soup tastes than impress you with an exotic ingredient or fancy technique or flowery menu description.

“We try to keep everything very simple, but very careful. If you eat with us for breakfast you know that we’re making the soup or salads in the morning and prepping for lunch. We don’t make Ketchup. We don’t make Mayonnaise. We make just about everything else from scratch every day.

“This is Fast Food. We’re obsessed with speed and constantly time ourselves. Our average serve times are around 3.5 minutes, which makes us a little slower than McDonald’s.”

Definitely food for thought.

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