By Lawrence Rogers
It takes little more than a daily scroll through a Sewanee email inbox to figure out that Chef Rick Wright is passionate about what he does. The executive chef’s correspondences go beyond simply detailing the day’s menu to offer insights, encouragement, and advice on maintaining a healthy and balanced lifestyle as a busy college student. But despite Wright’s enthusiasm, some of McClurg’s finer points might be lost on its most dedicated patrons.
So what can you, as a Sewanee student, do to make the most of McClurg? First of all, voice your opinions, preferences, and needs. The best way to make sure your needs are being met is to email Chef Rick directly or, if you have a food allergy, to fill out the Medical Accommodations Questionnaire with the Residential Life Office.
“We communicate and engage and make ourselves available to students,” says Chef Rick. “However, all individuals need to take responsibility for their diets and lives and ask questions and educate themselves to determine what is best for them.”
When Chef Rick arrived at Sewanee six years ago, his first order of business was to add a juice bar and vegan line (now also gluten-free). He wanted to take care of the particular needs and preferences of the vegan and vegetarian communities, but he was also looking to quell the growing clamor from the groups, which he says are much more vocal than their carnivorous counterparts. Students need to actively participate in the dining experience and make their voices heard; the kitchen staff cannot read minds.
Another great way to avail yourself of Clurg is to make sure that you do not miss out on all of the fun and camaraderie of activities that liven up the dining hall’s atmosphere.
Chef Rick freely admits, “There aren’t a lot of dining options on the Mountain. Eventually, you’re going to get tired of cafeteria food.” Monotony-breakers, like sushi night and the midnight pancake breakfast, provide students an opportunity to take ownership of food preparation and make eating more of an event. Chef Rick also teaches classes in food preparation, like Chicken Butchering 101, which has made an appearance every year for the past several years.
Finally, and most importantly, students can get involved with the community outreach and sustainability projects that happen behind the scenes. Did you know that for the second summer in a row, the dining staff—who would have otherwise been laid off while school was not in session—provided 9,000 meals to 500 food-insecure children on the South Cumberland Plateau? Or that, with the help of McClurg, the student-led Food with Friends program furnishes hot, sit-down meals to needy families in Marion, Grundy, and Franklin Counties? These are just a few of the opportunities for service supported by our dining hall; there are more available and many more waiting to be created. If agricultural sustainability is what really revs your engine, there is no better place to start than in the dining hall, which strives to source at least 20% of its produce from within 150 miles of campus.
“Our culinary hike down the path of greater sustainability,” explains Chef Rick, “started as a journey for deliciousness and flavor.” But it does not have to end there. Students can be the ones leading the charge to bring that 20% up to 30% or working to reduce the nearly 500 pounds of compostable waste that leave the Clurg for landfills every day.
While service and environmental protection are some of Chef Rick’s most essential values, what he really wants is to see students being intentional about the food they put on their plates: “Wake up and think about what you are putting in your body, stop sleepwalking through your life, make smart decisions about what you choose to eat, ask questions and educate yourself, listen to your body and eat accordingly. Food is life, it impacts everything and everyone, eating well is easy if you keep in mind that you are what you eat.”