By Jacob Pactor
This summer marks my eighth summer on staff and my third running the kitchen. Our kitchen consists of four cooks per meal, a rotating two-week crew of Avodahnikim, an assistant kitchen steward, and myself. At each meal, we serve close to 350 people. That’s more than 1,000 plates, forks, cups, bowls, and serving utensils used and washed daily. Working in the kitchen provides a great opportunity to see, interact, and feed all of camp.
Our cooks are familiar faces. Our head cooks – Saddie Billips and Pat Turner – have been serving meals at GUCI for 23 and 20 years, respectively. The other cooks have nearly 40 collective years of serving GUCI campers. Even though our cooks are not former campers or staffers, they are passionate in meeting all of our campers’ dietary needs; they prepare specific meals for vegetarian, gluten free, and lactose intolerant campers. Saddie and Pat follow in the footsteps of Gert and Irene.
The meal begins well before campers arrive. For breakfast, the Avodah kitchen crew arrives 30 minutes before the meal and takes down all the benches, sets the table, places cereal on each table, fills two water pitchers per table (roughly 44 pitchers), refills the milk coolers and juice dispensers, and then finds some time to eat before the actual meal begins.
The same thing repeats at lunch and dinner except that a cabin joins Avodah in setting the tables in the Chadar, a program called toranoot. Each day, one cabin is assigned toranoot. It’s important for each cabin to have an opportunity to set the tables because it helps them be active participants in our camp. Meals are a program at GUCI – sometimes, it’s the best time for campers and counselors to interact and discuss what has been going on.
After the meal ends and all the campers leave, the Avodah crew washes all the dishes in our Hobart system, where temperatures reach 180 degrees. And they sweep and mop the floors, clean the bathrooms, and prepare the kitchen and Chadar Ochel (dining hall) for the next meal.
When I’m not spending my summer feeding 350 people three times a day, I teach high school English. But GUCI has been my home away from home for a long time, and being in the kitchen affords me the opportunity to supervise incoming high school seniors and engage campers as I walk around the Chadar Ochel during meals. Almost all of what makes GUCI special can be captured in the preparation, delivery, and cleanup of meals.