Word has quickly spread around campus about Mission Dining Hall’s recent improvements. After overhearing my peers say things such as “first iced coffee, and now a pasta bar! Bless!” and “Mission is killing it,” I was excited to have the opportunity to interview Mission Dining’s new unit manager, Charlotte Clark. Clark worked in the College’s Catering Department for almost seven years, which she described as a “crazy world.” Even though the job was hectic, she “thrive[s] on chaos” and is “always looking for new challenges.” When she saw the opening for a new unit manager position at Mission Park, she jumped at the opportunity and has been working there since February.
For Clark, working for Dining Services is the ideal way to channel her interest in cuisine. “I’m very passionate about food,” she said. “I love trying new things, creating new flavors and experimenting with new ideas.”
Therefore, Clark enjoys working at Mission because she gets to be involved with Dining Services, but she can also engage with students to improve food service here at the College. “I had never worked directly in student dining before, and I really wanted to be a part of it,” Clark said. “I’ve found it to be an amazing experience so far. Having a chance to work with the staff and students to grow our food service program is a great thing.”
One of the first things that Clark implemented was the iced coffee bar, which includes various flavors. A coffee lover herself, Clark knew that this was exactly what students needed. In addition, every Friday night is now ramen bowl night, and every Saturday night is “Mission Impastabowl” night, featuring customizable pasta bowls using the local brand Vermont Fresh Pasta.
These new initiatives are just some of the ways in which Clark is working to make Mission Dining Hall a comfortable place for all students to come and relax. “I want people to walk into our dining hall and enjoy a meal, no matter what type of food they are looking for,” she said. Clark wants the dining hall to be like “a home away from home.” One way in which she hopes to achieve this goal is through the newly established Mission Lounge, where students can comfortably sit to eat or do homework.
Clark and her staff are expanding the vegan and gluten-free programs as well as focusing more on fresh, local produce and reducing the amount of processed foods. This is part of Dining Services’ greater aim to have 20 percent of food purchases be local by 2020 (local purchases are currently at 18 percent).
Clark and the rest of Dining Services are striving to create unique food options from local produce in collaboration with students. This fall, Dining Services worked with students to process 1700 pounds of such locally-purchased produce into “pickles, fresh pesto, jams, apple sauce and a few other things,” Clark said. This year, Clark hopes to continue the program with more produce and “even more student involvement.”
Other dining reforms that Clark is spearheading include implementing environmentally friendlier practices. Specifically, Clark is currently working on raising awareness about the importance of composting and making it easier to keep the compost separate from the trash at Mission. Something that surprised me to hear was that all of the disposable products, such as utensils and napkins, are Vegware, which are “made from plant- or corn-based products” and are therefore both biodegradable and compostable.
Another major change Clark and her staff have been planning is reducing food waste by planning menus that utilize food better and continuing to set goals for the Lean Path system, which tracks pre-consumer and post-consumer food waste.
Clark is always open to new ideas and warmly encourages all students to stop by and give suggestions or feedback. “The students I’ve met so far have such great enthusiasm for food,” she said. “It makes me want to work even harder to help implement all the amazing new ideas they have shared.”