Williams Catering cooks up imaginitive cuisine

The College’s catering service gets creative in providing delicious food for events in the Faculty House and elsewhere. Photo courtesy of Jeanette Kopczynski.
The College’s catering service gets creative in providing delicious food for events in the Faculty House and elsewhere.
Photo courtesy of Jeanette Kopczynski.

Although many students at the College are aware of the hard work and dedication that Dining Services puts into preparing tasty and nutritious meals at Whitman’s, Mission Park and Driscoll Dining Halls, fewer know about the work that goes into the College’s catering service. In an attempt to illuminate this lesser known aspect of the College’s dining program, I sat down with Jeanette Kopczynski, Assistant Director of the Faculty House and Catering. Kopczynski, who has been at the College for 17 years, shared some nuances of the processes that go into making Williams Catering run smoothly.

Catering’s central purpose is to provide food for events held in the Faculty House and elsewhere across campus.

“We take all of the College [events] first, and that’s our primary purpose, whether the customer is a student or faculty [member,]” Kopczynski said. “If we can take stuff that’s not [within the] College afterwards, like alumni events, then we certainly do that.”

Catering provides food for a widespread range of events, including weddings. However, “the only [weddings] we cater [are those] in the Faculty House, [so as] not to compete with or take away business from local caterers,” Kopczynski said. “If [weddings] are held on campus, they’re typically with an [outside] caterer. If they’re held in the Faculty House, then we do them.”

Kopczynski works to manage and organize many aspects of these events at the College.“I do the planning of people’s budgets [and] the planning of their menus,” she said. “If they need tents I rent all the tents. I rent all the china [and] linens. [I] put in Facilities work orders – I’m kind of the coordinator of it all.”

Although the Catering team is an entity separate from Dining Services, the two collaborate for busier events.

“[We] work together,” Kopczynski said. “There is a separate catering team that works right in the Faculty House, and they do the lunches in the Faculty House as well as catered events in the Faculty House and on campus. However, it’s a small group. They’re really talented and they work very hard, but when we do really big events or really large weekends, like for the [Teach It Forward] campaign, we involve the dining hall staff as well.”

The summer months in Williamstown are especially busy for Catering. “We have conferences and camps that come on in the summer. That’s what keeps us all employed in the summer, which is really great of the College to make sure we have full-year jobs,” Kopczynski said of the summer rush.

“We have camps that come in, and the Faculty House takes the ‘adult camps’ that are on campus. So we have basically breakfast, lunch and dinner in the Faculty House from the beginning of the summer until mid-August, which blocks out a lot of time,”  she said.

Catering has a unique, customer-driven process that it uses to create event menus. Kopczynski likes to begin the process of planning an event by meeting with the customer and asking him or her to bring in special a vision for the menu. After that, she designs a specialized menu and shows it to the customer for input

“Maybe they’ll want a vegan local menu, and I’ll send them some suggestions with pricing, which they can look at and say, ‘Okay, this fits into my menu price range,’ or, ‘It doesn’t,’ ‘Yes I like this’ or, ‘No, I want more ideas,’” Kopczynski said. “But it’s very much tailored to what they want. We have some general menus online that people can look at for reference, but I almost always suggest that they come in and talk to me, and we put specialty menus together for them.”

Because of this customer-driven process, every event ends up with a unique menu.

“It’s very rare that we repeat menus [because] they’re put together based on what the customer wants,” Kopczynski said. For this reason, Kopczynski explained, there isn’t a singular favorite past catering menu that she could call to mind. “It’s hard to say a favorite menu,” since they don’t repeat, she said.

That being said, Kopczynski does find that Catering’s locally sourced food items are notably special. “[The catering staff is] very creative,” Kopczynski said. “With local [catering menus,] they go to the Kellogg House and collect spices, and they actually dry them out and use them in their menus. So they dry out all of their own spices using a dehydrator.”

The Catering staff makes its own orange zest, dried mushrooms, horseradish, garlic and ginger using this dehydrating process.

The College’s catering service has various methods of staying environmentally conscious throughout its process.

“We have this program called Lean Path where we measure our waste to try to keep track of how much we’re wasting and where we can save on waste in the future,” Kopczynski said.

Catering also buys products from local farms such as Cricket Creek and Highlawn, and it uses china or biodegradable disposable dishes for all events in order to minimize waste and remain emvironmentally friendly.

With its unique menus and dedicated staff, Catering is certainly integral to making events on campus run smoothly, successfully and deliciously.

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