Interview With the Chef: What is the Real Scoop on Severn’s Dining Hall?

The price of food is an essential consideration when humans are looking to satiate our most basic human need — hunger. This is no different for those of us here at Severn, who every day leave our classes and workspaces in hopes of finding food to quench a tired working mind. For many, this involves a daily pilgrimage to the lunch line in order to buy food off hot trays and cool salad refrigerators. Some run through with haste and don’t even bother a glance at the price of the food they are buying; others notice a high price tag and question it; and then there are a small few who decide to write about it. . . which is me.

Parents often teach their children the value of a dollar. The sheer amount of time required to earn a sustainable living. Me — I had never truly realized the importance of these words until I worked for myself. I acquired a busing job over the summer in a restaurant in Delaware. Long hours of labor, sometimes mindless and uninteresting, for minimum wage, by the hour work. It made me truly appreciate the hard work that my family does for me every single day. What I came to realize is that I spent money much more frugally if it is mine, rather than if I have been given it by my parents. I thought long and hard before spending my money.

Head Chef Mr. Richard Law

Like many of you, I found the lunch prices way too high for the quality and quantity of the food being served. Sure, the food is “gourmet” in the recipe, but is it truly outrageous to charge over five dollars for a tortilla and a small amount of beef, maybe three or more dollars for a single slice of pizza, and how about four dollars for spring rolls? I couldn’t help but get the sense that I was being ripped off. Was it because we were perceived as “capable” of paying the price tag because of the fortunate backgrounds that most students come from? For a while, this was the conclusion that I came to. Was I really buying into this problem? I had to dig deeper.

Mr. Mooney and I came to the conclusion that if I wanted answers to these questions, the only reasonable action was to talk to the head chef directly. I went straight to the cafeteria, where I was directed to a small back room hidden behind boxes and stacking palates. There sat a man, average in size and stature, who at first was surprised at my sudden entrance. I spoke about my intentions for an interview with him and what it would be used for. He gave me a puzzling look, before agreeing and handing me a business card with the name of his company and his email. I hurried back to the library, where I began typing up a perfectly crafted interview request. I sent it off, and waited, and waited, and then I waited some more. Had he not gotten it yet? Was he too busy? Was I being too hasty?  I waited a few more days until I finally got a response, a rather spectacular deconstruction of my argument with an interesting response to each question I asked.

The head chef’s name is Mr. Richard Law. He has been working in food service for over twenty years, with experience at many fine dining establishments. He arrives with his crew early in the morning to begin preparing the kitchen for the morning breakfast rush, and later the lunch rush. Cashiers work diligently to ring up all the hungry students that come piling into the lunch line with rabid intent. Mr. Law himself works the line and prepares items to make sure the quality is assured throughout the process.

After reading the first few answers to my questions, I finally reached the most important issue: pricing. I asked Mr. Law if he realizes what some people think about the pricing. His response was interesting: “I understand some may feel the prices are high; however, this is a very difficult time for the food industry as a whole — we are not unaffected just because we are in a school environment.” I gave a skeptical eyebrow raise but decided to give him the benefit of the doubt for now. Mr. Law continued, “If you go to the grocery store, [you will see that] the cost of some items have seen significant increases, both due to shortages of labor and raw product. That translates to the restaurant and food-service industry as well. We try to keep pricing as low as possible and didn’t do wholesale increases across the board as other locations have had to do at the start of the year.” At first, I wasn’t sure what to think. Food shortages? I couldn’t believe that was his response. Was I just being ignorant? Was Mr. Law telling the truth? I decided to do some research.

As it turns out, I was being ignorant. . . kind of. Without a doubt, food and other supply chains around the world are facing volatile fluctuations in both availability and pricing. Inflation generally has been running at its highest rate in decades, driving costs up across the board. However, it seems to me that Severn’s pricing has always been high — is this a good excuse for years of high-priced lunches?

I believe the answer to this question is subjective. Some will decide that Severn’s pricing is too high and should be lowered. Others believe that the quality and pricing seem reasonable. I believe that this is an issue that each individual here must decide on their own. Which side are you on? Is action required? Feel free to comment on this article, or reach out in person or by email and let us know what you think.

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