Lunch at Hutchison


Jyn Jones '24

CQ Gintz sitting in the Hutchison dining hall during COVID19 pandemic being used during study hall.

One of this year’s biggest casualties of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Hutchison campus has been lunch in the dining hall.   Many students returned to campus during the pandemic, but they weren’t able to return to the dining hall for Chef Willie’s food. “Quite honestly lunch was the linchpin of all the other plans we were making because it affects so many moving parts, and everything we do in the upper school affects the middle school, lower school, and early childhood,” said Head of Upper School, Adrienne Forgette. Safety guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Shelby County Health Department would have required social distancing that would have allowed only one girl per lunch table in the dining hall.   “Logistically, we thought about how we would move people through the narrow glass hallway in and out of the dining hall in a socially distanced way.  It was a nightmare,” said Forgette. 

School administrators weighed all of the options. “Basically, there was going to be one or two (food) options in the lunch line and half the school would have had to get their lunch from the gym.  The little kids were going to have to walk back their trays from the gym to their classrooms and it was going to cost even more money than it usually does,” Forgette explained. Hutchison even considered bringing in food trucks but decided against it because all food brought on campus now has to be completely pre-packaged.  The new lunchtime guidelines have brought a whole new set of challenges for our school.  There are 23 new students in this year’s freshman class and the school wanted to be sure they all had the opportunity to get to know each other and bond. 

The best option seemed to be to breaking into advisories for lunch. “We knew that lunch was going to be the riskiest time of the day because people would have to take masks off so we wanted to be able to provide some structure to it as much as possible, which is why we are eating in advisories.” The new COVID-19 lunch plans have pushed Chef Willie out of the kitchen and into several new roles, “Because I am by myself, it’s all on me, where usually I have a staff to help prep the kitchen before I start working.”  His normal day looks a lot different now he says, “At 2:00 I have to be at the carpool, so sometimes I have to rush to get everything done.” For one thing, he arrives at school later than he did on his pre-pandemic cooking schedule and he has started making and selling some of his most popular casseroles to sell to faculty, “Monday I start prepping the casseroles for Tuesday and Thursday when I sell them, then I go to carpool at 2:00 and sometimes I will sit in during study hall.”  Profits from the sales go to Hutchison to help with rising pandemic expenses.   Chef Willie says he misses seeing the girls and getting to cook for everyone because there are a lot of things that make lunch at Hutchison special, “I get to see everyone enjoying the food I make, and that is what is most special to me.”

He says he’s enjoyed his new roles at Hutchison during the pandemic, but he is looking forward to the day when he can get back into his kitchen and cook lunches for all of the girls again.  If you are like me, and you are running out of ideas for what to pack for lunch, Chef Willie offered a few suggestions, “stick to something easy, but always bring a protein, and a vegetable or fruit.”  

Meanwhile, like everywhere, Forgette says there is no word on when normal may return to the Hutchison dining hall, “If it was up to us, we would have lunch in the cafeteria back already, but we will follow what the CDC recommends.”