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    • Michael Hemby (left) and Patrick Byrne (right)

    • Butternut squash stuffed with quinoa, fried sweet potatoes, and a cranberry jus

Hopkins' Delightful Dining Staff

Connor Pignatello '19, Features Editor
Connor Pignatello ’19 has befriended Hopkins dining staff over the years in part due to his numerous allergies. The following is an interview with Head Chef Michael Hemby and Sous Chef Patrick Byrne.
Do you have any funny or memorable stories about the kitchen staff?
Hemby: In the kitchen while cooking, we quiz each other on music and movie trivia. Whoever gets the answer wrong treats the whole staff to a dozen donuts.

What’s your favorite dish to make?

Byrne: Falafel. When we made it this year we ended up with 4,200 hundred portions of falafel, for people that eat normally. Now, a lot of you guys eat like you’re six people, so it ended up being enough for only 750 kids. It could easily have been half a ton of falafel mix. I’ve also enjoyed making the tortilla soup, we’ve done it vegetarian or with chicken in it.
H: My favorite is the Vietnamese bahn mi pork flatbread sandwich. We make a lot of flatbread sandwiches and we do a lot of different varieties. The pickling vegetables on the flatbread made it pretty cool and different from a regular grilled cheese or chicken parm flatbread.

What is the best dish you make?
H: Patrick and I both agree the General Tso’s chicken over jasmine rice and sauteed snow peas is a really good combination. Also, the chicken wings, or “bat wings” as we call them, either parmesan garlic or honey hot. A new favor we plan to introduce soon is “house-made Carolina gold.” We brought that new favor out on a Friday testing day, and we only had about 60 people, but it came out really nice. We’ll do it again in the spring.

How many grilled cheeses does the staff make on Jack Lubin Grilled Cheese Day?
B: When I applied for this job, I think Mike King [the Director of Dining Services] was trying to scare me when he told me “one of the things we do every year is we make a metric ton of grilled cheese.” When I heard that, I thought, “No way this school makes that much grilled cheese,” but in fact, we do make that much grilled cheese; about 1,500 sandwiches to be exact. H: We lay them all out on a table that fts about 200 sandwiches. We take squirt bottles and put melted butter in them to squirt the butter on the bread. Then, we put the cheese on a piece of bread, throw another piece of bread on top, squirt it, flip it, squirt it, tray it. We cook them in the oven at 500 degrees, that’s how we get the golden brown crust -- that’s the secret. We use the oven -- we would need 1500 griddles to grill that many grilled cheeses.
B: Next year, we’ll take blowtorches and heat the table up. We’re going to call Elon Musk and get some flamethrowers. So, get ready for this year’s grilled cheese event. Assistant Head of School John Roberts calls grilled cheese day every year to see if he can stump us — if he can get so many people in the cafeteria that we can’t keep up — but it hasn’t happened yet.

Any other crazy days in the kitchen?
H: This year, pancake day was pretty crazy. We started making pancakes a day ahead, and I think we made about 2,400 pancakes. We used griddles, we heated up the syrup, we put blueberries in, and we took banana and blended it into the batter. Also, when we made french bread pizzas [on February 21], that was 250 loaves of french bread. It was busy but not as crazy as when we do regular pizzas.
B: One of the things we do really well here is cooking things up to the minute. We can fit up to 50 pizzas in our ovens at one time, so the students are getting hot pizza straight out of the oven.

Where do you find recipes? How do you decide which ones to use?
B: The umbrella company of Flik [the dining company at Hopkins] is called Compass USA and they have a database of recipes. There are a lot of nutritionally focused recipes there. We also pull recipes from industry magazines, Bon Appetit magazine, Food Network, Allrecipes.com, and Epicurious.com. Once Hemby finds a recipe, he’ll tweak it to work for 1,000 people, because they usually serve four. One of the things I’ve also noticed is that at Hopkins, you have “enlightened palettes” -- you all eat really well. We can put out pomegranate molasses glazed brussels sprouts, and you guys will eat them all up.
H: We also model after a lot of celebrity chefs such as Martin Yan and Cat Cora. We follow Compass Group’s food philosophy: clean eating for better living. This year, we added a vegetarian station to accommodate the vegetarians on campus.

What do you like to do in your free time?
B: I do a lot of pastel drawing. When you go home you have to do something for you, because most of the day what we do is for other people.
H: My time is consumed with food and cooking. I’m the chef at the house — my wife does a bit but I do most of it, in addition to food competition, private catering, and fellowshipping with my church. I’m always cooking.

Any behind-the-scenes stuff that would be interesting for the Hopkins community to learn about?
H: We host the CAIS (Connecticut Association of Independent Schools) once a year, and most of the school doesn’t see that. There’s also a lot of other catering that we do at Head of School Kai Bynum’s house and for other events. These are times where we can get really creative and the whole team takes the food to a fine dining level. Accommodating for allergies is also a big part of what we do. For anyone with an allergy, there is always an allergen-free plate in the kitchen. We make sure that everything is checked, we check all of the ingredients, even for food that might seem to have no allergens in it. We really strive to get food fresh, with no processed food — there is not a microwave here — and we get our meats in fresh, never frozen.
B: I’ve worked in other restaurants besides here, and they do not put the same amount of care into allergens we do here. We check everything and make sure there is no cross-contamination. The attention to detail here is amazing, we take every measure to make sure allergen-free food is allergen-free.
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