KINGSTON, R.I. – February 20, 2008 – Seeing a skillet sizzling with butter, shrimp, penne, peppers and mushrooms was no surprise to the University of Rhode Island students who lined up for lunch on Presidents’ Day at Hope Commons dining hall.
But they were surprised when they saw President Robert L. Carothers decked out in a white chef’s hat and jacket.
Presented his personal chef duds, complete with “Chef Bob” emblazoned on the jacket, Carothers cooked his favorite dish, a shrimp and penne pasta stir fry, for two hours during peak lunchtime for a seemingly endless line of students.
Many students came away uniformly impressed with the president’s willingness to get in the trenches with the dining staff and his culinary creation.
“It was cool that he wanted to get involved with everyone,” said freshman Nicole Nolin of Pawtucket.
Justin Schumacher, a freshman from Long Island, was surprised to see the president working the Home Style station, but when he tasted what the president had prepared, he smiled and said, “It was really good; it was dynamite.”
Sophomore Anice Barbosa, originally from Brazil and now of Providence, was impressed with the president’s work. “It was so nice for him to take time out of his busy day to cook for us,” Barbosa said. “He is so friendly.”
Fall River sophomore Sandra Davin agreed. “It was a fun surprise and it is very good. The president is very personable, and it’s nice to see him in a real-life situation.”
It was also fun and an education for “Chef Bob. “Some of the students seemed a little shy at first, but I think it gave them something to talk about over lunch.”
Michael Viscusi, a freshman from Long Island, said he got the president’s pre-game take on the Rams’ game last night against Xavier. “I asked him if he was going to the game,” Viscusi said. “He seemed excited and enthusiastic because we were 11-0 at home.”
Carothers said he gained some valuable insight into jobs performed by Dining Services workers.
“I think the hardest part is the continuing demand to keep the food coming,” the president said. “Our chefs and cooks have to be creative in their planning and keep smiling through it all.”
He added that since preparing and sharing meals are ways that families, friends and communities come together to share their stories, support each other and enjoy a few laughs, the Presidents’ Day experience was very gratifying.
“”It helped me feel connected to the students, and giving them something they really enjoyed felt pretty great too,” Carothers said.
He even had a chance to serve members of his staff, including Cathy Sears, one of his executive assistants and Cheryl Tefft, his executive housekeeper. “This is the only time he gets to work for us,” Sears said jokingly.
Dining Services Director Kathleen Gianquitti said the idea for having the president cook on Presidents’ Day came out of discussions she had with many of her staff. “We’ve been talking about some special events to liven up the dining halls, and we thought having our own president cook for the students on Presidents’ Day was unique,” Gianquitti said “As soon as we asked him, he said yes. He liked the idea that he was going to be dressed in full chef’s regalia, and just to make sure everything went smoothly, we paired him with one of our principal cooks, Bill Joyce.”
Gianquitti said the event was not just fun for the students. “Our staff was excited to have a chance to work with the president, to talk with him in their environment and to show him the pride they take in serving our students the best possible meals. You could see smiles everywhere.”
So, with such strong reviews, could this become an annual event?
“Yes, I really enjoyed it,” Carothers said.
COOKIN’ PRESIDENT: URI President Robert L. Carothers is ready to cook “Presidential Penne” for students on Presidents’ Day at Hope Commons dining hall. At left is Bill Joyce, principal cook. Photo was taken with a fish-eye lense.
GET IT WHILE IT’S HOT: URI President Robert L. Carothers hands a plate of his “Presidential Penne” to pharmacy student SoJin Kim.
URI Department of Communications and Marketing Photos by Michael Salerno.