The winter holiday season is a time for foodservice operations to strut their stuff with catered events, staff and customer appreciation parties and festive menus. Gingerbread house building and cookie baking also go into high gear. And with final exams coinciding with pre-holiday festivities, culinary teams on college campuses help ease the grind with late-night specials.
Here’s a roundup of the celebrations going on in the foodservice community.
Gingerbread houses reach new heights
The leadership of Itawamba Community College (ICC) in Fulton, Miss., presented its Sodexo dining team with a challenge: create gingerbread designs to replicate different buildings on the school's various campuses.
Chef Rachel Pitman rose to the occasion, constructing gingerbread buildings located at four colleges—ICC-Fulton, ICC-Tupelo, Mississippi University for Women and Jackson State University, all in Mississippi.
"After presenting this idea to our Sodexo team, they never skipped a beat to help start a new campus tradition,” Tyler Camp, chief of staff and special assistant to the president at Itawamba Community College, said in a statement. “It has become a staple of the annual President's Christmas Open House where we host ICC employees and their families for a time of fellowship and celebration.”
Chef Pitman makes the replicas by viewing photos of the buildings, and each one is 95% edible. After the unveiling each year, the gingerbread houses go on public display for students and community members to enjoy during the remainder of the holiday season.
Dining with the president
At Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Ark., students, faculty, staff and guests are treated to Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts served from tables lined with linens in a dining hall decked out with holiday decorations. While the campus chefs prepare the meals, university president Dr. Ben Sells and his wife, Lisa, head up a carving station, serving turkey, roast beef and honey-glazed ham to 1,322 diners.
The Christmas lunch, served on Dec. 6, also included scratch-made side dishes such as macaroni and cheese, garlic mashed potatoes, Christmas corn, green beans and assorted salads. Three desserts—chocolate cake, red velvet cake and carrot cake—made for a grand finale.
The university’s dining team also plans special menus for Three Nights of Finals Week. It’s an Ouachita tradition to kick off finals on the Sunday before exams begin with Late Night Cinnamon Rolls. Monday brings Late Night at Tiger Grill, and on Tuesday, there’s Late Night Breakfast.
Fueling final exams
Ouachita Baptist isn’t alone in offering sustenance, comfort and a little fun during finals week. Chartwells Higher Education and Texas State University Dining came together with the college’s Department of Housing and Residential Life and the Department of Auxiliary Services to revitalize Late Night Breakfast on the San Marcos, Texas, campus. The goal: to make it bigger, better and later than before, said a Chartwells spokesperson.
This year, the event was hosted at Jones Dining Center, a venue with seating for 700. Texas State administrators and staff were invited to serve students from 10 p.m. to midnight, and ultimately, 1,800 free late-night breakfasts were handed out. In addition to scrambled eggs, pancakes, hashbrowns and sausage, the menu included 1,200 donuts made by campus bakers and displayed on a donut wall.
The staff covered the dining tables with paper so students could doodle with crayons and play games to add to the festivities. Dance music was provided by a DJ, and volunteers distributed T-shirts and buttons to commemorate the event. Even Texas State President Kelly Damphousse attended and was snapped in a lot of selfies.
“After two years of isolation, this event leading up to final exam week helped our students to have some fun and positive energy,” said the spokesperson.
Snow more classes
University of Nebraska in Lincoln held a dual-themed celebration on Dec. 8 aptly named “Snow More Classes.” The evening event, hosted at Willa Cather Dining Hall, was billed as a place for students to celebrate the upcoming holidays and the semester coming to close. Supplies were provided for making gingerbread houses, playing games with prizes and enjoying holiday refreshments.
Sharing cookie love
At Allegheny Valley Hospital in Natrona Heights, Pa., Cura patient service manager Mary Pierce is also the head baker. During the holiday season, she bakes up hundreds of cookies, often with the assistance of Cura supervisor Jessica Love.
Pierce’s specialties are peanut butter buckeyes and pumpkin cookies, while Love is partial toward cream puffs. They package all the cookies to sell to busy healthcare workers in the Allegheny Health Network to make it convenient for them to have scratch-baked cookies for their holiday tables.
A Brownie troop of elves
Loyola University in New Orleans partners with Holy Name of Jesus Brownie Troop #40199—“the Bluebirds”—for an annual Christmas celebration. The Brownies serve sugar cookies and marshmallows, which become part of the evening activity. Guests decorate the cookies with red and green icing and sprinkles, and the jumbo marshmallows get dipped in warm chocolate and garnished with toppings such as crushed peppermints, sprinkles and cookie pieces.
College students and the community come out for these refreshments and more—there’s also a photo op with Santa, train rides, a petting zoo and hot chocolate.