June 16, 2021—CulinArt independent school dining services teams in the Northeast broke out of their year-long COVID-19 constraints with a flurry of end-of-academic-year catering activities that clearly showed they haven’t lost a step when it comes to culinary creativity.
Rumsey Hall School in Washington, Conn., The Forman School in Litchfield, Conn., and the Cambridge School of Weston (Mass.), all opened and welcomed students to campus back in August and September 2020. They did so, as reported in the CulinArt COVID-19 Update (a precursor to today’s Connect), with one overriding goal in mind: to feed students while keeping them and our staff members safe and protected. Food was still important, but masks, Plexiglas, distance decals and to-go containers ruled the day.
Prevention of COVID-19 is still a presence at these and other locations. But as these events—including commencements, luncheons, staff parties and more—showed, it was time to get back to the business of putting food front-and-center in their execution.
CSW kicked things off on June 2 with a Beach-themed Senior Night, attended by 120 seniors and faculty. “The campus resembled a beach atmosphere in many ways,” says Dir. of Dining Services Tony Penezic, “except there were no bathing suits allowed! It was fun to do—colorful, happy ambiance with good weather, music, and the food and drinks.” Dinner consisted of kebabs (chicken and veggie), burgers (meat and meatless), hot dogs, corn on the cob, pesto pasta and garden salads, curly fries, and assorted sushi.
5 hours, 150 cupcakes
Strawberry daiquiris (non-alcoholic, of course) were served in “tropical cocktail” fashion, while desserts included pineapple and watermelon pops. Beach Cupcakes featured sand and water frosting (ground Graham crackers and blue icing), a buoy (Lifesaver), and either a starfish, seahorse, clamshell or umbrella. Sounds tedious? “It took me five hours to make 150 of them,” Penezic says. “The client and especially the kids were very happy, and I am sure that our outdoor and indoor food and beverage stations contributed to creating a fun atmosphere.”
A week later the CSW team prepared a Faculty and Staff Appreciation Lunch whose menu could have been mistaken for that of a wedding or state dinner: seared Norwegian salmon, Statler Chicken Provencal, vegan quinoa cakes, roasted fingerling potatoes, herbed Israeli cous cous, roasted asparagus (green, white and purple), and a Power Greens salad, not to mention red velvet, lemon meringue, and other cupcakes.
For the chicken dish, Penezic got particularly creative. Whereas chicken Provencal uses a whole chicken, he marinated the “airliner” breast with herbes de Provence, fresh garlic and lemon overnight. He gave it a quick sear on the griddle the next day, then oven-roasted the 85 or so servings with artichoke hearts, cherry tomatoes and a number of Mediterranean staple ingredients: capers, Sicilian olives, garlic, and extra virgin olive oil, finished with fresh parsley, oregano, rosemary, sea salt, and black pepper. Faculty dining will never be the same!
A cut above
Not to be outdone, the Rumsey Hall Faculty Party enjoyed not just good weather, but a food offering considered a cut above. The party’s South of the Border menu featured a 7-layer Mexican dip and spicy gazpacho shrimp for starters, Tex Max caviar, a radicchio and Bibb lettuce salad with cilantro ginger dressing, Mexican street corn, creamy Mexican fruit salad, churros, and zangos—deep-fried cheesecake with caramel and banana wrapped in a tortilla and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar.
No entrees? “We were asked to provide appetizers and desserts to accompany a taco truck [the school] rented,” says Maryann Pierzga, FSD, adding, “our food was better!” It would be tough to disagree with her: the Texas Caviar featured black and pinto beans, red and green peppers, corn, red onion, Jalapeno, garlic, cilantro, scallions, olive oil and fresh lime juice, while the fruit salad contained cantaloupe, honeydew, strawberries, and pineapple drowning in condensed milk, sour cream and honey, garnished with shredded coconut and cinnamon. Take that, taco truck!
For its faculty party, Forman turned back the clock to stage a Roaring 20s–themed soiree, complete with Prohibition-era cocktails such as Sidecar and Bee’s Knees. “The client wanted an elaborate menu, cheese table, passed appetizers, and the signature drinks,” explains Denee Danner, CulinArt’s FSD. And “elaborate” the menu was: swordfish, Statler chicken, filet mignon, roasted potato rounds, roasted beet and goat cheese greens, and tri-colored, local-honey-glazed carrots. “The weather was perfect, and all guests dined al fresca,” Danner adds.
Even when portability was necessary, such as for graduation ceremonies, the CulinArt teams poured their all into crafting grab-and-go lunches that should be considered anything but ordinary. Rumsey’s event—“one of our first since 2020,” Pierzga says—was staged with social distancing in mind as a Picnic Lunch, complete with school tote bags stuffed with a school picnic blanket, sparkling cider and Champagne flutes.
Each graduate was given one tote bag to share with up to four guests. Foods from which to select their picnic lunch included beef tenderloin on brioche with horseradish sauce and arugula, chicken Caesar salad, and tomato, basil and fresh mozzarella wraps; gemelli pasta salad; fruit salad; chips; and, of course, Rumsey cookies. Groups had the choice of enjoying lunch picnic-style under the commencement tent, Pierzga notes, or at tables under a smaller tent nearby.
At Forman, which decided to forego the usual buffet open to all graduates, families, faculty and staff, the CulinArt team led by Chef Darby Fitzgerald prepared no less than 600 Bento boxes featuring a cheese platter, dried and fresh fruit, and handmade lemon zest rosemary pita. “It was important to [administration] that we had a ‘hearty snack’ that everyone could enjoy, but it had to be grab-and-go,” explains Danner, while some were prepared for those avoiding gluten and dairy and all came with a box of homemade cookies.
And then there was Dessert Night at Forman, just one of various events geared toward making the seniors feel special before their departure, according to Danner. Desserts included chocolate fudge eclairs, raspberry cheesecakes, cannoli, assorted meringues, and cupcakes (red velvet, orange cream, and lemon). Dessert Night was a tradition at Danner’s previous account and she hopes to make it a Forman tradition.