In the summer of 2017, Boston College was awarded a $399,705 grant by the Henry P. Kendall Foundation, which works with institutions throughout New England to increase local food purchasing and consumption. Through the grant, the school’s dining team created FRESH to Table, an initiative aimed at showcasing regional, healthy, socially just and sustainable food on campus through events and other programs. BC Dining also used the grant to bring on a new hire, Juli Stelmaszyk, to oversee the initiative.
FoodService Director sat down with Stelmaszyk, whose official role is manager of regional and sustainable food systems, to talk about her new job and about how to hit the ground running when you’re new to an organization.
Q: How did your role come about?
A: BC Dining received this grant from the Kendall Foundation in June of 2017 and they took about six months to get my position hired. They wanted to hire a person to really manage and oversee the rolling out of FRESH within their dining operations, and so that’s my role. I kind of like to think I’m the liaison between the administration, the culinary team, students and the school community at large.
Q: How do you help manage and facilitate the communication between all the different groups on campus?
A: I think one of the things I’ve tried to do is try to find what matters to the individual. We all have different ways that we connect with food. It might be your culture, it might be your language, it might be environmental reasons, it might be worker or labor rights, it might be health, etc. So I think about what it is that an individual or group on campus really cares about and then I kind of meet them where they’re at and bring them into the fold, so they can see that they are one piece in this bigger puzzle that we’re trying to put together.
Q: Before coming to BC Dining you held a variety of different roles throughout the food industry including working on a farm and working as a chef in Rome. What are some tips or tricks for those who are just coming into a new role at an organization?
A: Get to know people. Do as much as you can to show up at meetings. Attend events that you might not directly be involved with because it’s a good way to get to know others, and people are more willing to work with you if they know you and if they believe in what you’re doing. That can be challenging if you work at a big institution. You really have to work at it because you may not see people for a couple of months.
The other thing is be open to different perspectives. Everyone has different places that they’re coming from, especially in the food industry. There’s so many different pieces. You could be a cook your whole life and have never seen what happens on the purchasing side or vice versa, so I think that the more everyone can understand everyone’s day to day and what they’re working on and the challenges they face, then the better we can all be. If you have one agenda you’re trying to push, you’ll never get there as quickly as if you have your team behind you.
You should also listen to your hourly staff. They have great ideas, they’re out on the line and are interacting with our customers all the time. I can tell from conversations with my colleagues that the hourly staff have some of the best ideas, such as finding different ways that we can get creative around reducing food waste. So I would say listen more than you talk. In the beginning, it’s especially helpful.
Finally, you should just have fun. I think anyone who works in food has some sort of passion and creativity. It can be really hard work if you’re working in this industry, so I think it’s always important to keep it light and remember what it’s all about and making sure that the customers have a good experience.
Photograph by Richard Howard