From experience as a bank manager, garde manger chef and even a mother, Elaine Lunardi, dining manager of Sherman, ensures not only the production of high-quality food, but that the dining hall is a place that students and staff alike can feel at home.
“I am all about the kids,” said Lunardi. “If I wouldn’t serve it to my kids, I wouldn’t want it served here [in Sherman]. I want your environment to be cozy and comfy, just like I would want it for them.”
Lunardi entered the food service industry when her son began kindergarten. She was offered a job in the cafeteria that had “part-time mother’s hours,” she explained. Since then, she hasn’t looked back. After years of working in various schools in the Medford school system, Lunardi enrolled in culinary school and took a job in the kitchen to open up more doors for herself in the industry.
“It wasn’t that long ago that I was in the kitchen with the uniform on and doing my bit back there. I loved it. I was a garde manger chef, so I did fancy salads, fancy sandwiches, and I did catering managing,” said Lunardi.
Her work in the kitchen landed her a job as dining supervisor at Brandeis four years ago when Sodexo took over the Brandeis dining account. Because of her experience as both a chef and kitchen supervisor, when she was promoted to dining manager of Sherman at the beginning of this year, she stepped seamlessly into the role.
Managing three kitchens—Kosher meat, Kosher dairy and the regular kitchen—as well as staff and payroll, Lunardi is constantly on the move. “It’s been a learning curve for me,” Lunardi admits, but it is not reflected in either her completion or knowledge of the job. In addition to ensuring all is in order for staff in and out of the kitchen, Lunardi is committed to larger Brandeis goals as well, with sustainability as a top priority.
Just this last year, Sherman was recognized for having the greatest improvement in poundage of compost. Rather than throw food waste away, Sherman staff uses a green bin system in which they compost food such as cucumber peels, pepper seeds and ends of melon. At the end of the day, what is put in the trash is very minimal, according to Lunardi.
“We work with Mary Fischer,” who is the manager of sustainability programs at Brandeis, Lunardi explained. “This is why we what we do, because students want it. It’s the world we live in, and it’s something we have to do.”
In addition to emphasizing sustainability, Lunardi looks for other ways to improve students’ dining experience through napkin comments—comments students write anonymously and leave on napkins at the entrance to Sherman. “A few comments back, we had a student that asked for less sweetened yogurt,” said Lunardi. Since then, vanilla yogurt has been switched out for plain in the morning, and Greek yogurt is available during the day.
On average, 1,800 meals are run through Sherman a day. While feeding students, let alone remaining in touch with them, may seem like a daunting task, it is the reason Lunardi keeps coming to work.
Her favorite moment in the job so far was when she asked Amy, an always-bubbly student who seemed sad, what was wrong, and she explained she had an exam and was panicked. “I said, well what can I do, and she just went like this [put arms out], and I just hugged her. That was a super special day for me. That was a day that I realized that I was doing something and in the right place for the right type of a reason,” said Lunardi.