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April 30, 2016

Hello from the Other Side — of the Food Trays

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“What do you do for food? Do you cook?”
“No, I just eat at the dining halls.”
“Oh, what’s it like? Standard cafeteria food?”
“No, actually, it’s really good — Cornell Dining is one of the best dining services in the country.”

This is a very typical exchange with almost any adult trying to make conversation when I go home over breaks. As a patron of Cornell Dining, I’ve always appreciate the food served at the various establishments across campus, but I’ve come to realize that it’s not just what’s on the plate that makes Cornell Dining so great. Working as a student food service worker at Keeton has helped me to understand life on the other side of the food trays.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of


“You treat the pizza dough with the same softness as you would your lover.”

Undoubtedly, the Cornell dining chefs are very good at what they do, and coupled with their talent is a sunny disposition and cheerful personality that makes working in the kitchen fun. They’re always ready to teach you their trade, give a bit of life advice and inquire about your general well being.

Since getting hired, my pizza making skills have risen exponentially, starting from “I know the phone number for Domino’s” to “Give me a wood fired oven and I can make you anything” — which I’m pretty proud of.

“Omelet station is the gossip station.”

Waking up on a Sunday morning to go to work in front of a hot grill making omelet after omelet for five hours sounds terrible and in theory, it really should be. Though I often stumble in late and sometimes hungover, working at the omelet station is the perfect post weekend discussion forum. Support group, gossip vine or debate podium — call it what you like. Finding your fellow student workers as the first ears to hear about your weekend shenanigans develops a camaraderie that makes one look forward to going to work. Well, as much as anyone can look forward to work, anyway.

“Can I please get an extra piece of chicken?”

There is a sacred bond between the hungry student who comes in and stands in line for several minutes before reaching the mains, only to look with despair at the piece of meat rationed out to them and sheepishly ask for more. You turn around, take a quick look to see that no one is watching, whisper, “I’m not really supposed to…” and slyly slip them another piece, winning their gratitude and eternal friendship. I’ve actually made most of my friends this way — which might say more about my social skills than about this tradition.

It’s all these things, coupled with a sense of familiarity with everyone involved, from the chefs to the regulars, that justify the feeling of working at one of the best college dining institutions. I also seem to have written a great pitch for applying to work in dining, completely unintentionally (at least officially, I say, counting the money from the commission I received for writing this).