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University News

New culinary manager spices up campus dining

Contributing Writer
Thursday, February 17, 2011

Assembling “Barbecuban” pork sandwiches at Josiah’s, introducing a Belgian waffle station at the Blue Room and instructing workers in cooking techniques — Aaron Fitzsenry is making his mark as the university’s first-ever culinary manager for retail operations. And now students can follow his Google calendar on their accounts.

Fitzsenry came to Brown in September after 20 years behind kitchen doors, which included a few stints as executive chef at various New England restaurants.

He has already introduced changes to campus dining such as Kabob and Curry at the Blue Room, occasional macaroni and cheese bars at the Ivy Room and thin crust pizza specials made from local ingredients at the Gate.

“Since this position is a new one, I’ve been finding my way as I go,” Fitzsenry said. “I can train, I can work with people, I can teach. With any other free time, I get to develop some things in the food world.”

He uses as many local ingredients as possible, as part of a Brown Dining Services initiative for “real food.”

Some of his creations are even concocted from leftovers, like bread pudding at the Blue Room made from the previous night’s unsold scones.

Much of Fitzsenry’s focus has been on the newly renovated Blue Room, said Ann Hoffman, Dining Services’ director of administration and human resources. But his involvement will be more evenly distributed among retail operations in the future.

Blue Room breakfast specials will become a permanent fixture, and the “Barbecuban” barbecue pork sandwiches at Jo’s will probably follow. With the fall harvest, Fitzsenry hopes to start a counter at the Blue Room featuring fresh produce from Brown’s student garden.

To inform students what specials to expect, Fitzsenry has made his personal Google calendar available to the public. His next appearance will be at Jo’s on Monday. As his calendar says: “Breakfast for supper! Every Monday night we’ll be serving specialty stuffed French toast with home-fry-seasoned tater tots. PBJ or berries, honey and cream cheese? Yes, please.”

Stuffed French toast was a favorite of Fitzsenry’s during his time working as executive chef at the Vanderbilt Mini-Mansion in Newport. “A lot of the specials we’re running here are things I’ve bench tested in other work experiences, which adapt pretty well here,” he said.

But not all of his ideas are completely his own. Some of the best ideas come from BuDS student workers, like the Blue Room bread pudding, he said. “Other places in the food service world do not get the type of workers we have here,” he said. “The student workers are smart and ambitious. They’re extraordinarily dedicated because they work together with their peers. It’s a great environment to be in.”

Food service changes were student-driven even before Fitzsenry arrived on campus, including popular support for the Real Food Challenge, which helped lead to the creation of Fitzsenry’s position, Hoffman said. Having a culinary manager has allowed Executive Chef John O’Shea to focus more on the Sharpe Refectory and the Verney-Wooley Dining Hall, she said.

“We’ve grown so much, and the expectation of our customers to constantly be doing new things and getting involved in more initiatives has made it such that (O’Shea) is unable to have a significant presence in retail,” Hoffman said. “The decision to create (Fitzsenry’s) position was largely due to the fact that there just wasn’t enough of (O’Shea) to go around and not enough culinary attention devoted to those operations.”

“We got some student input last semester as we were thinking about menu concepts and developing what the operations would look like last spring of 2009 before we opened,” Hoffman continued. “Those weren’t random decisions. They were driven by feedback about what students would find desirable options.”

Joshua Marcotte ’11 said he has felt the impact of Fitzsenry’s efforts.

“I feel that the retail operations are a lot more attractive to students now,” Marcotte said. “The old Blue Room, for instance, was definitely a hangout spot, but people weren’t as pumped about things offered there for food. A lot of students are now considering it a legitimate option.”

Fitzsenry said he is also excited by students’ enthusiasm. “The job here is fantastically rewarding,” he said. “The number one thing I can tell you is that I’m happy to be here. The atmosphere is what makes it so, so great.”

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