Five students dressed in black slacks, black button-down shirts and vests are lined up in a row. In the back room of the Tanner Building’s reception area, the students prepare a lunch plate assembly-line style. With a tray of savory food in front of him, a supervisor demonstrates the proper way to arrange the main course: chicken wrapped in pork served with butternut squash, potatoes and asparagus.
“Take four asparagus and arrange them like this next to the potatoes, put a dollop of sauce like this on them, and pass it on,” the supervisor said. “Make sure the chicken is right in the center. No, like this. Good. That’s one down, now just 130 more to go.”
BYU Catering prides itself on attention to detail and getting everything just right. With a staff consisting of about 300 student employees and nine full-time members, BYU Catering is responsible for creating the food and atmosphere for various on-campus events, serving anywhere from 10 to more than 2,000 people at a time. A lot of work that goes on behind-the-scenes to prepare for a catered event.
Kirk Rich, catering manager, said BYU Catering is multi-faceted, able to serve anything from buffets to plated dinners to appetizers.
“We can do weddings, birthday parties, conferences, receptions, anything,” Rich said. “Anybody who comes on campus and reserves a room can use our services.”
BYU Catering has three full-time chefs on staff who prepare the meals in the hot and cold kitchens in the Wilkinson Student Center. With an average of 10 events per day and about three hours to prepare for each event, the kitchen staff has their hands full. The chefs, all culinary graduates, can prepare just about anything, but some of their popular meals include the chicken and beef main course, as well as salmon. They also cater to dietary restrictions such as vegetarian or gluten-free meals.
Adam Jones, chef de cuisine, said the kitchen staff has a color-coded system to make sure the food all goes to the right event.
“One time we had two events right across the hall from each other and some of the meals got switched,” Jones said. “We make sure we do all we can to prevent things like that happening and make sure the customer has no complaints.”
Kamie Bushman, a senior from Herriman, and a captain for BYU Catering, said people don’t realize how much time it takes to prepare for an event.
“There’s so much that goes into setup and cleanup,” Bushman said. “It’s really interesting to see how an event unfolds.”
The students have a simple policy: serve fast and serve well. It’s a team effort to make sure everyone is satisfied.
Another captain, Amber Kent, a junior from Chandler, Ariz., said she loves the fun people she works with who are able to get tasks accomplished.
“Some of what we do can get pretty disgusting, like handling people’s half-eaten food, but we all do it with a smile on our face,” Kent said. “We do all we can to make the people we serve happy and try to be good about seeing their needs and making it happen.”
BYU Catering has served many high-profile guests, such as LDS general authorities, business leaders and politicians. The staff is not allowed to speak to the guests they serve, but nonetheless they say it is exciting to see them and cater to them.
“It’s really fun to serve high-profile guests,” Kent said. “We’ve been able to serve to people like Mark Zuckerberg and Condoleezza Rice. One time I was on the same elevator as President Samuelson.”
When the event is over, a separate crew arrives to clean up and take down. Some of the unserved food is used in the BYU Skyroom or donated to food banks. Leftover food that has been touched or can’t be reused is sent to BYU Grounds and used as compost.
“Everything’s done according to regulation,” Rich said. “We try not to let anything go to waste.”
To learn more about BYU Catering, visit: dining.byu.edu/catering.