v9 To the Heights of Cuisine

To the Heights of Cuisine

Serving students and staff means a tall order for BCDS's top chef

By Stephen Gawlik
Staff Writer

He once prepared meals for American presidents and other heads of state, and could claim a global audience for his culinary presentations.

But while he may still prepare a foie de gras for the occasional visiting dignitary, Boston College Dining Service Associate Director of Events Services and Executive Chef Christopher Eiseman now spends more time satisfying the taste buds of students whose regular fare tends toward grilled cheese sandwiches and french fries.

"Sometimes the kids can be tough customers," said Eiseman, "and it can be difficult to figure out what they want."

Eiseman's duties at BC, however, go beyond dealing with the finicky tastes of young people. He is responsible for training BCDS staff, developing menus and recipes and the preparation of food served by BC's 10 dining rooms, which serve more than 20,000 meals per day.

In his 14th year as Boston College's top chef, Eiseman has a resume that begins in junior high school at a Marshfield sub shop, and includes the training program of the Hilton Hotel chain.

One of his most notable stops along the way to Chestnut Hill was New York City's legendary Waldorf Astoria Hotel, where he worked as a banquet chef. Eiseman speaks matter-of-factly of preparing meals for former US presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter and ambassadors and dignitaries who would frequent the hotel due to its proximity to the United Nations.

"In food service you never really concern yourself with who you're cooking for," said Eiseman. "What we need to ask is 'How many people?,' 'What time?' and 'What do they want to eat?' - regardless of who they are."

BC Dining Service Associate Director of Events Services and Executive Chef Christopher Eiseman. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

Eiseman's major responsibilities are menu development and ensuring that the food and service in BCDS dining facilities are of the highest caliber. He works closely with nutritionists to develop quality recipes while keeping costs low and makes time to meet with students to make sure they are satisfied. Eiseman also takes part in training staff for BCDS kitchens and oversees the management of those facilities.

Boston College Dining Service serves more than 20,000 meals a day for approximately 14,500 students and 2,100 employees. Here's a sample of the grocery list:

253,000 gallons of milk per academic year
258,000 lbs. of chicken per academic year
18,000 slices of pizza per week
17,100 cookies and brownies per week
700 gallons of tomato sauce per week

A 1978 graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Eiseman started his career with the Hilton Hotels chain, following somewhat in his father's footsteps, a former Hilton senior vice president who, as Eiseman notes, "dealt with everything except food." Eiseman spent a year with Hilton, working in Beverly Hills, San Francisco and Las Vegas. From there, he went on to New York City and the Waldorf, where he began as the manager of the garde mangre, or cold food station, and later became banquet chef.

After a short stint with Boston's Ritz Carlton in 1980, he returned to Marshfield as head chef for the Fairview Inn's 170-seat restaurant. But he found a restaurant chef's hours made it difficult to spend time with his wife and two children.

"Basically, when everyone else is relaxing, chefs are working," said Eiseman. "There's no such thing as a holiday in the restaurant business and that's not conducive to a good family life."

Eiseman took a management position with the Brandeis University food service division in 1983, and arrived two years later at Boston College to help manage a dining service operation that has greatly expanded both its facilities and its menus.

"Everything has been redone," he said, describing some of the many recent changes in BC's dining facilities, the biggest of which was the opening of the Lower Campus Dining Hall in 1994.

A key change in the campus dining facilities, Eiseman said, is that some grills and cooking apparatus have been moved out of the kitchen and into the customer service area, which helps make the food more appealing to students.

"This way they see it being cooked. There's no more mystery food coming from out back," he joked.

Eiseman said Dining Service administrators work diligently to find out exactly what students want. In his time at BC, Eiseman has seen the rise in popularity of vegetarian and "health food" fare, and more recently, a shift away from traditional college staples like pizza and pasta to international foods like lo mein noodles and quesadillas.

"I love lamb chops," said Eiseman, "but that does not mean our customer base of 18 to 22 year-olds will. So we have to be carefully attuned to what students want."

Eiseman says BCDS has significantly altered its approach to menu development. BCDS administrators carefully monitor how menu items sell and keep an eye on the comment cards that are available in each BCDS dining room.

"There was once a mindset that said, 'We have to have standard meat loaf and potatoes.' Now we say, 'If they're not buying it, then we're not going to cook it.'"

Occasionally, Eiseman will survey students to see which foods they find most appealing. Recently, he tested various types of pizza crusts and fried chicken tenders on the palettes of freshmen recruited to serve as a focus group.

"We have to give them what they want. They're going to be here the longest," said Eiseman.

These days, most of the actual cooking that Eiseman does is at home in Sharon for his family. His favorite food is veal: "It's so tender and captures the flavor of whatever you cook it with."

However he may put to use his culinary skills at home, Eiseman said he and his family are clear about one thing: "If I cook, then someone else has to clean up."


Return to January 18 menu

Return to Chronicle home page