Story by Stella Soon
Dining hall food – like it or hate it, we put it into our mouths anyway. And while we’re pretty familiar with how our thin crust pizzas and fried chicken fillets taste, we know much less about what happens before they reach our plates.
So on 23 January, the day of The January Thing, my photographer, Jenn, and I paid a behind-the-scenes visit to the dining hall kitchen to check out how our $16.50-worth formal dinner food was prepared.
Where the magic happens
On the menu for the night’s dinner was lemon butter salmon, chicken lasagna, salad, and chocolate cake, which was whipped up at the CAPT-RC4 kitchen. Meanwhile, the Cinnamon-Tembusu kitchen saw the Halal food being prepared.
To get to the CAPT-RC4 kitchen, walk towards CAPT from the Cinnamon porch and you’ll see a small flight of stairs. Climb them to reach the kitchen!
Food hygiene is taken very seriously here, so anyone entering the kitchen has to don long pants, covered shoes, and a hair net – visitors like Jenn and myself included.
What really happens
Shows the likes of Kitchen Nightmares might have convinced us that all kitchens are pressure cooker environments – temperamental chefs, shouting, and tension all round. But the dining hall kitchen couldn’t be further from that.
Rather, the sight that greeted us was one of calm, with the chefs working hard to prepare the lasagna in silence. Having already scooped the chicken into trays, they were laying cheese slices on top methodically.
And given the 500-odd hungry bellies they had to feed, it wasn’t something they could complete within the blink of an eye.
Preparations for the salad were also ongoing. Alice, who has been serving the CAPT-RC4 Indian stall for 3 years, doubled up as a kitchen helper to slice all the vegetables.
However, cooking them wasn’t her responsibility – that’s only done by the chefs.
Lots of effort went into ensuring the food for the night was extra appetising — members of the USP community even sampled it beforehand to QC and suggest tweaks to the taste of the dish.
For instance, that generous dollop of lemon butter sauce on your salmon came about all thanks to students’ feedback.
From kitchen to table
Chartwells’ job doesn’t end once the food’s been cooked. Since the day’s Italian delights were cooked in the CAPT-RC4 kitchen, transporting it over to the Cinnamon-Tembusu dining hall was the next thing on their checklist.
Enter the Chartwells van. The trays of food were loaded onto the minivan, driven over to our dining hall, then loaded onto a roller tray before being wheeled inside.
This van isn’t only activated during formal dinners — it’s the same SOP(Standard Operating Procedure) for normal dinner services too.
Typically, Western and Indian meals are cooked in the CAPT-RC4 kitchen; Asian and Halal cuisines over at the Cinnamon-Tembusu side. Once the chow’s ready, it’s driven over to each dining hall so that we have 4 types of fare to choose from.
Once all that was done, the only thing left was for the food to be served and eaten. And with 98/107 people indicating on a USP Life poll that the dinner was “above average” or “awesome”, it seems like there were pretty good sentiments of the food all round.
So if you were to ask me: $16.50 dining hall food – yea or nay?
After I saw firsthand how much effort went into the food preparation and how hard all the Chartwells staff toiled, I’d say: just take my money.