If you ever feel pressured to pull together a satisfying, nutritious meal for your family, imagine yourself in the role of Ross School’s Executive Chef Liz Dobbs, who estimates that she and her staff of 26 prepare and serve 24,000 meals to the Ross community every month. The number includes three meals a day for students and staff at the Upper School campus, breakfast and lunch at the Lower School, and weekend meals for the boarding program. In keeping things fresh, Liz certainly has her creative culinary work cut out for her.
The guiding principle of the Ross Café is the importance of regional, organic, seasonal, and sustainable (R.O.S.S) methods of food production and consumption. The Café purchases from a number of local farms and businesses, including Balsam Farms, Early Girl Farm, The Milk Pail, Hampton Bagels, Cromer’s Market, Stuart’s Seafood Market, and Hampton Coffee Company. September through early October is a particularly great time to create menus based around local and seasonal foods, says Liz: “This is high season for the Hamptons—the height of the growing season is one of the best times to eat here.” However, with storms and colder temperatures, crops will soon be shifting, and the diners at Ross Café can anticipate recipes that integrate foods like autumn squash and local cauliflower.
Liz explains, “We try to have something for everyone” as she adopts what she calls a “no meal left behind” maxim. While adhering to an emphasis on local ingredients, Liz and her team work to ensure that each week’s menu represents a variety of dietary options that acknowledge the multiculturalism of the school’s demographic. “Brazilians like a hunk of cheese and bread for breakfast, Germans like meat, and Russians want kasha,” she says. “In some cultures—it’s funny—a cold sandwich is just the worst.”
When considering the issue of sustainability, food waste is a primary concern. The Café works to cut waste while avoiding undue pressure on teenagers for what they are eating or not, especially in the first weeks of school, when new students are unfamiliar with many of the food options. Leftovers either get repurposed into soups or the salad bar in creative ways, frozen for later use, or donated to nonprofit community centers in East Hampton, including Whalebone Village and the Phoenix House in Wainscott. As a final step, food waste is collected and delivered to Rogers Farm in Water Mill for compost.
In the coming weeks, the Café will integrate curricular themes into meal preparation. In a few weeks, seventh graders will contribute to Maya Day, preparing tamales and other Maya dishes for everyone to enjoy. And in November, the Parents Association will serve up a community Thanksgiving before students go on break. With much to look forward to in the coming weeks, the Ross Community feels grateful on a daily basis for the nutritious and delicious fare served up by the Café.