(All photographs by Connie Tsang)
U of T’s President Meric Gertler is actively seeking opportunities to make connections with students and spend time talking in depth with them about their studies and concerns, their hopes and aspirations. On Thursday, January 12, New College arranged an informal dinner where President Gertler could meet some of our students and spend a while socializing and talking – and enjoying a delicious, locally sourced meal prepared by the recently constituted St George Food Services.
Principal Yves Roberge introduced the evening by observing that one of the paradoxes of university administration is that people in positions like President Gertler’s end up being so busy that it can be hard to find opportunities to communicate directly with the students. Having previously been Dean of the Faculty of Arts & Science for several years, President Gertler knows the college system very well – and that the colleges offer great opportunities for direct contact with students: hence this occasion. While President Gertler’s position necessarily involves his participation in (sometimes extremely) formal events, the principal remarked that the president is also partial to less formal gatherings. Since the atmosphere of New College itself is informal, with the attendant potential for genuine exchange, we were happy to oblige!
Each guest around the table briefly introduced themselves and the special guest gamely took his turn when it came, despite everyone knowing who he was: “Well, I’m Meric Gertler and I’m president of the University,” he offered, which thumbnail sketch raised laughter and set everyone at ease.
President Gertler told the gathering that he is also a professor of geography and a member of the Munk School of Global Affairs, and, referring to his period as Dean of Arts & Science, noted that “it’s great to be back and hear from students about what they’re working on. The opportunities for interdisciplinary studies are hugely varied, and there is so much interesting work being done here.”
Represented by the students present were first to final year undergraduates involved in a number of New College activities and programs, including New College Student Council (NCSC); the International Foundation Program; the Community Engaged Learning Program partnering with the Hart House Community Kitchen; the Global Food Equity Initiative; and a recent graduate who in 2016 participated in the Belize Experiential Learning Program and also received a Gordon Cressy Student Leadership Award.
As President Gertler noted, the students’ areas of study are diverse and form an impressive array of disciplines, including African studies, American studies, European studies, biology, computer science, economics, environmental studies, equity studies, global health and disease, history, human geography, immunology, genetics, neuroscience, nutritional science, physiology, and psychology.
Nicholas Grant, President of NCSC, remarked that the council’s members appreciated being able to meet President Gertler and were very happy to know that he actively looks for opportunities to engage with students on a local college level. Grant also noted that “the diversity of the students and their experiences made the event a true reflection of the diversity and ideals of New College.” Final-year student Nadine Abdel-Ghafar, who is University of Toronto Student Union New College Director, found the opportunity to speak with President Gertler a rewarding one, too, despite her initial nervousness. “Hearing him talk about the initiatives he is currently implementing at the University of Toronto spoke volumes about his drive for progress and improvement,” she said. “During our discussion about the diversity of the university, he mentioned how we, the students of the university, are ‘studying with the world.’ I could not have thought of a more accurate expression to describe my experiences at the University of Toronto.”
Faculty and Staff Guests
Members of New College faculty and administration who have daily contact with students were also in attendance, including Kerri Huffman (Registrar and Assistant Principal), Deborah Knott (Vice-Principal and Director of the Writing Centre), Leah McCormack-Smith (Director, Residence and Student Life), Jeff Newman (Librarian) and Lori Stahlbrand (Food Equity Coordinator and Lecturer).
The dinner preparation was a joint initiative by St George Food Services and New College, and led by Executive Chef & Director of Culinary Operations, Jaco Lokker, and Executive Chef Residential Dining, New College, James Piggott. Thanks to their efforts, the dinner itself opened up many conversations between the guests and also highlighted the college’s Global Food Equity Initiative, which through its programming connects food security scholarship, students and the community.
In August 2016, U of T’s St George campus took its food services wholly in-house – and now operates the largest independent food service of any university in Canada. Under Chef Lokker’s leadership, the kitchens have converted to cooking from scratch, using fresh ingredients and having nearly 60 per cent of food locally produced, grown or sourced. Of that, he says about 20 per cent is regarded as being on a ‘higher level’, in that it’s from a more sustainable source, from farmers with demonstrated sound ethical practices. “About 90 per cent of our menu tonight comes from those farms.”
Chefs Lokker and Piggott introduced each course, telling guests where the food they were about to enjoy came from. (And enjoy it they did – the meal was delicious and beautifully presented.)
- Purée of parsnip soup, with caramelized sweet onions and apple
- Parsnips from Holland Marsh, along with celery and leeks.
- A touch of heavy cream from Harmony Organic, a group of 14 Southern Ontario family farms.
- Potatoes to thicken the soup and the sprouts on top from Cookstown.
- Onions from Holland Marsh, and the apples from Niagara.
- Sprouts on top from Cookstown.
Fun fact: Chef James pointed out that the table centerpieces were edible and that guests should feel free to nibble on them. The yellow ones you can see in the photo below are corn shoots.
- Duo of beef & duck: YU Ranch beef tenderloin with red wine reduction and Ontario pan-seared duck breast. Accompanied by dried cranberry and caramelized shallot stew, pavé potato and lavender honey-sautéed baby vegetables
Chef Piggott asked the guests how they had enjoyed the breads that had been provided on the table. When he received resounding approval, he responded, “Good – then I can give myself a pat on the back. I baked those fresh myself this afternoon!”
- Mini crème brûlée with pistachio crisp
And finally, a few pictures of this talented St George Food Services team hard at work:
The last piece in the catering puzzle is, of course, the servers. Below are Tyler Watson and Dariusz Jaczynski (Supervisors, Catering and Banquets) who were joined by Gleemol Dias (not pictured, Assistant Director, Catering and Banquets).
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