2016 Newsletter # 7
Greetings from the sun-drenched shores of Lower Baker Pond! As we begin the last week of camp, the most oft-heard words from campers and counselors alike is, “I can’t believe this is the last week of camp! Wow! The summer has gone so quickly!” Indeed, another summer is reaching its final days, and we will be extremely sad to bid the boys adieu in just three day’s time. In the blink of an eye, the leaves will begin to turn red and gold, the evenings will become cooler, and we will all rejoin our families and reconnect with our home-away-from-Pemi.
As I type this note from the West Wing of the Senior Lodge, I can hear the yells of excitement and encouragement down at Senior Beach, telltale signs that Pemi Week is in full swing. Swimming, sailing, and archery championships, Games Day, Woods Dudes’ Day, two evening performances of Pirates of Penzance and, of course, Final Banquet are all on the week’s schedule as our summer climaxes with a crescendo of events. Pemi Week is a wonderful opportunity for the boys in each cabin to work, play, and bond together, and for all of us in the Pemi community to celebrate what has been a particularly sunny, active summer in the Baker Valley.
When I consider all of the things to be thankful for in the summer of 2016, right at the top of my list is the well-prepared, delicious, and bountiful food we have enjoyed this season. We consider excellence in food to be at the very top of our to-do list in preparing for each summer, and this year we have not been disappointed!
While I will mention others who have helped to tackle the Herculean task of feeding a community of 250 hungry souls three times a day, credit begins at the top, and my first “shout out” goes to Tom Ciglar, our Director of Food Services. As you may recall from the email we sent last fall, part of our reshuffling of the staff deck included dividing responsibilities in the Mess Hall in a new way and creating this new position. The world of food service has become infinitely more complex at summer camps, schools, and even at our own family tables than it was twenty of thirty years ago. Tom was hired for this newly constructed position last October with the idea that he would concentrate his efforts on creating the menu, ordering the food, managing the front room where the campers and counselors eat, and overseeing individual dietary requirements. While, of course, Tom has also seen plenty of time at the stove this summer, we recognized that having a single head chef oversee all of the responsibilities of the kitchen, and do all of the cooking, is an antiquated model that needed to be updated to attend to all of the demands of a modern camp kitchen. Creating this new position was the first step in rethinking how we prepare food and manage the dining operation at Pemi.
To say that Tom has hit it out of the park in his new role this summer would be an understatement! The reviews from boys and staff alike have all been overwhelmingly positive, and Tom’s love and aptitude for cooking and managing others has been at the top of the list of reasons why the boys have been so happy with the food this year.
When asked about his goals for this summer, about the things he thinks are important in cooking for a boy’s summer camp, and also about his love of baking bread in particular, here’s what Tom had to say:
“This summer has been a very satisfying one for all of us in the kitchen. My goal for the season was to take care of everyone and serve meals where all of the pieces come together so I see a whole community well fed. This is tremendously satisfying for me. A few years ago, Pemi helped me attend a baking class at King Arthur Flour Company, in Norwich, Vermont, where my love for baking really took off. The bread baking started as a way to supplement the meals and it just took off from there. The rest is history, I guess you could say.” Tom calculates that he has baked 1,000 loaves of bread this summer, or about 50 pounds a day, and that he has used a ton of flour! Wow!
When I asked Tom about the most exacting demands involved in cooking for 172 boys each day, he replied, “The biggest challenge is to serve a healthy meal three times a day, but with a good variety of things that the boys love to eat. Our boys love their meat, potatoes and bread; the test is not just serving the food, but also planning for variety in the menu and seeing that they enjoy what we serve.”
I also asked Tom if anything had been a surprise this summer. “Well, it’s not my first rodeo, so it’s hard to surprise me at this point. I guess if I had to identify something that I have been especially pleased with, it’s been the very positive reception we’ve received from the dining room this summer. The support and great feedback have been amazing and have been another example of Pemi’s big heart.”
Finally, I asked Tom if there was a dish he had served this summer that was especially satisfying. “The pot roast we had for Sunday lunch. The pieces all came together, and the Mess Hall was actually quiet for a few minutes!” Well, that silence spoke volumes about everyone’s appreciation of Tom and the kitchen staff’s efforts and skill. Silence in the Mess Hall is about as common as the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series!
Well, the proof is in the pudding as they say, so I asked a few of our campers if they had any thoughts about the food this summer. As you might guess, they had plenty to say!
Braden Richardson in Lower Six said that he really loves “the mashed potatoes and meat loaf. They’re so tasty they remind me of my mom’s cooking, and she’s the best cook in the world”! (Tissues for Lisa Coleman, Braden’s mom, please.)
Gray Klasfeld in Lower One said, “I love how diverse the meals are. There’s always great variety. My favorite meals are the soups, the pasta, and especially the chicken fingers!”
Ian Hohman in Upper Three, noted that, “Tom spends so much time making sure we are all happy and full. I really love the BBQ chicken!”
Luke Bass in Lower Five really loves, “the Sunday Sleep-in pancakes. The toppings are amazing, especially the chocolate, strawberry, and fruit syrup.”
Jonah Reay in Lower One said he loves, “having Tom’s bread at so many meals because it’s homemade and tastes so fresh!”
Grady Boruchin in Senior Two thinks that, “the “food this year has been so healthy, with lots of vegetarian options.”
Obviously, feeding the boys three times a day is not a solo task. Tom has a crew of ten others helping him in the kitchen, including six young men from overseas (four from Poland and two from Turkey), two early-morning sous chefs, assistant chef Rachel Preston who works at Tilton Prep in the winter, and Tom’s second-in-command and main chef Judy Harrington, back for her second summer in front of the ranges at Pemi. Judy offers not only excellent food preparation but also a maternal warmth for the boys as well. “I love feeding my boys,” she says. “The look of joy on their faces when I described Sunday dinner, roast pork and potatoes, is the kind of thing that makes all the preparation worthwhile.”
While there are many aspects of the Pemi program and the Pemi day that we feel offer excellent experiences for the boys, it is particularly satisfying to include the Mess Hall meals among them. The food at camp is an important part of everyone’s day, and the rich experience of our dining together is enhanced by the delicious, plentiful, and nourishing food we have enjoyed in 2016. We look forward to continued success and happy days for Tom and his crew this summer and beyond, and we feel grateful and extremely fortunate to have this particular crew bringing us such consistently scrumptious and plentiful meals this summer.