Outside of the Silliman College dining hall, the quadrangle was covered with New England snow colored brown and white from sidewalk grit and the pressing of Yalies’ duckboots. Heads covered against the wind, the students tread heavily in for dinner.
But inside the dining hall, from underneath her fluorescent vegetable medley hat flopped forward over her eyes, all Monique Webb could see was Brazil.
Listening to Destiny’s Child on a portable radio, Webb, Silliman’s Latin American PanGeos chef, pushed back her hat and tossed a cup of plantains and chicken cubes onto her hotplate. Tropical Chicken Saute.
“I’ve asked a few people in Latin America,” she said, “and they never cook with mangoes or pineapples or coconut sauce.”
The flags of PanGeos have flown high in Yale dining halls for more than a year now, and student responses were initially very enthusiastic. However, the original mission of Aramark’s “around the world” cuisine stands has become obscured as PanGeos stations fade into Yale Dining Services commonplace.
“PanGeos makes Silliman feel just like Latin America, which is apparently a land overrun by canned pineapple and ridiculous hats,” dining hall worker Ming Thompson ’04 said.
Thompson claimed, like other regular PanGeos patrons, that the once innovative dishes have become repetitive.
“I don’t really know what we’d do without PanGeos,” she added. “I guess I’d have to combine the fruit and meat myself.”
Complaining in tandem about mundane food and small portions, students also protested PanGeos’ hours of operation.
“I guess culinary cultural diversity is important, but not on the weekends,” said Lars Casteen ’04, bemoaning PanGeos for only being available during the week.
However, it is clear that despite a supposed lack of selection, students have become accustomed to the dishes, and miss them when they are unavailable.
“Although I’ll have to leave most of Yale behind, I’ll be able to recreate the dining hall experience that has so brightened my college years,” said Dan Sharfman ’01 of PanGeos, which has a station in the cafeteria of Goldman Sachs, where he will be working next year.
Not just a Yale phenomenon, PanGeos, a trademark of Aramark, began to appear in colleges and businesses around the country two years ago.
“We’re really looking to wow our guests with friendly, outgoing customer service,” said Mike Doppke, Aramark’s location manager at Clemson University.
Doppke said PanGeos was founded on the principle of five F’s: fast, for you, friendly, fun and forthright.
For the most part, students agree.
“They really are friendly,” Jordan Stoks ’03 said. “I was sort of taken aback at first.”
Indeed, Doppke said, it takes a different breed of person to work at a PanGeos stove, which is a point that hasn’t escaped Webb. She said she feels a sort of competition between the regular dining hall chefs and herself.
But Yale PanGeos chefs seem to lack forthrightness as Helga Hemstock, head chef of PanGeos’ Granary in Commons, would only venture to list the five F’s — and an altered list, no less — after being pressed.
“It’s fast, fun, flavor, friendliness and freshness,” she said.
The Granary is vegetarian, and according to Hemstock, it has an impressive 150 menu options.
“I know what PanGeos is really about,” said Donell Kragel, Hemstock’s assistant. “It’s all about portion control. They count every grain of rice.”
Another discrepancy between Aramark policy and PanGeos reality is in the level of training.
According to Doppke, chefs receive special training and demonstrations to learn how to follow recipes.
“There’s really not much training, maybe half an hour or so,” said Webb, who recalled her first nervewracking day with a shudder as the line built up for freshly prepared Latin American cuisine.
She said she survived and has grown to like her job because of consistently pleasant interactions with the students who visit her in the corner of the Silliman dining hall.
But regarding the uniforms, everyone seems to be in agreement.
PanGeos chefs are given jackets and “depending on the kind of atmosphere we hope to create, they wear floppy hats, paper hats or even baseball caps,” Doppke said.
Claiming a certain degree of solidarity and pride, Hemstock said, “the hats represent a separate identity for PanGeos.”
And in the words of Webb, “The hat is the only thing I really love.”
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