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New campus caterer to focus on fresh food, variety, and sustainability

Alex Oefeli, on-site executive chef and Katherine Guerrero-Butler, catering manager

Alex Oefeli, on-site executive chef, and Katherine Guerrero-Butler, catering manager

Great Performances, which took over from Restaurant Associates as Rockefeller’s food service vendor on September 4, has been hard at work for the last several weeks, and spent the Labor Day weekend setting up equipment, ordering food, and training workers. Feeding over a thousand people a day is a big job, and the new management will be introducing changes over the next weeks and months as they get to know Rockefeller tastes and culture. We spoke to several members of the new team to learn about their approach to food and their plans for our kitchens.


How are things changing in the three dining facilities?

Alex Oefeli, on-site executive chef: We will be making changes to breakfast and lunch menus throughout the university, with a focus on seasonal items, fresh produce, and made-to-order items. We’re making some modest changes to the flow of the dining facilities and the way they are staffed in order to improve efficiency and, hopefully, reduce wait times. We’re also working on improving communications, in our correspondence to and our interactions with the community. There will be a greater management presence in the dining areas, with people to interact with and give feedback to. You’ll be seeing a lot of me—one of my favorite parts of the job is establishing personal connections with the people I cook for.

Will there be more options available?

Tim Sullivan, executive chef of venues: We’re committed to supporting a range of diets, including robust vegetarian options. And we want to make sure there are choices at a variety of price points. In addition, we’re looking to add variety to the salad bars, the grill, and the sandwich stations. So it won’t be the same three sliced meats everyday—there will be more seasonal variety, and you’ll see special items like cumin roasted young carrots with local honey, and maybe a carrot top tabbouleh too. We’ll be closely monitoring sales reports to get a sense of what’s popular at Rockefeller and tailor our offerings accordingly.

How will breakfast change?

Alex: In the CRC, we’re going to make the bagel bar self-service, and we’ll have made-to-order breakfast sandwiches. All our muffins, croissants, and cookies will be baked on-site. We source our coffee from Brooklyn Roasting Company, which produces sustainable coffees with superb flavor and has a strong commitment to living wages and fair trade.

Are prices going to go up?

Jennifer Mcmahon Elliott, director of business operations: No. Although we may look at adding a few higher-end options, in the Abby for example, we are keeping costs in line with where they are now.

What are you most excited about?

Alex: We are implementing some changes in the Abby that we think will really improve the dining experience. We are rearranging the room to improve flow and make the pricing easier to understand, and we’re reallocating staff to provide more assistance at the buffet and increase the overall level of service. Desserts will be served à la carte, which will add a touch of elegance and help reduce waste.

How will your commitment to sustainability be evident on campus?

Liz Neumark, chief executive officer: Something you’re going to hear a lot about from us is food waste, which is a big issue for companies like ours that handle large quantities of fresh food. We look to reduce waste at every stage of our processes. We do a lot of made-to-order items for this reason, and we prepare and serve things in small batches. Wherever we can, we’ll be stocking drinks in glass bottles and aluminum cans rather than plastic, and cutting down on disposables—switching to bulk condiments, for instance. We also pay a lot of attention to sourcing. Much of our meat and produce comes from farms in New York and Pennsylvania.

What about catering?

Katherine Guerrero-Butler, catering manager: We’ve already been working with members of the community to plan for fall events. We’ve introduced new menus and packages, and over the coming months we’ll be tweaking things as we learn more about the events, the culture, and the tastes of the community. In addition, our company operates two food trucks, and we’ll be looking for opportunities to incorporate a variety of street food into events and on special occasions.


Questions or comments regarding Great Performances at Rockefeller can be submitted here.