Johanne Legrand is the executive chef for Lower Usdan, and has been working at Brandeis for just over a year. Originally starting as a chef manager in Sherman, she was promoted to executive chef, although she still occasionally helps in Upper Usdan and Sherman when necessary.
Legrand’s responsibilities include creating the menus for Lower Usdan and Sherman twice a year. She creates the fall semester menus during the summertime and the spring semester menus during winter break. She is also in charge of ordering food for catering services, helps with retail when extra hands are needed, checks in on the food in the Faculty Club and does administrative work such as scheduling employees. “I do a little bit of everything!” she said.
One important role that she has as executive chef is to taste test all of the food everyday. She tastes the dishes to make sure that the food is fresh and has the correct flavor. She also enjoys seeing creativity in the dishes. Legrand trains her staff for what she is hoping to see in the dishes so that the whole team is on the same page.
Legrand said that since she was little, she loved to cook and often “watched my grandma cook.” At nine years old, her favorite dish to make was rice with lots of different toppings. Her reasoning for wanting to become a chef was because she not only loved to eat, but she loved to experience different cultures through food, as she said, “No matter what culture you are, you’re always going to eat!”
Legrand attended school at Johnson and Wales University in Providence and graduated with an associate’s degree in culinary arts and a bachelor’s degree in nutrition, as she enjoys cooking and likes the science behind it as well.
Some of Legrand’s goals for this semester include helping to create the marketing calendars that are hung up in the dining halls. For example, one special event on these calendars is the Third Annual Harry Potter Night, which will include themed food such as butter beer and a build-your-own edible wand station. Another of Legrand’s favorite themed nights is the international dinner that took place on the last day of school that she planned with the operating manager last year.
“We had Brazilian food and Haitian food. It was so great.” Legrand mentioned that both students and employees were really excited about the variety and the introduction of different cultural foods, and she hopes to host it again this year as well.
When Legrand is ordering food, she uses a specific system where she can select the types of food for the day. For example, if chicken is on the menu for the day, she could choose whether or not she would want to create a Mexican-themed chicken entree or take a different approach. This way, “we know exactly what we buy but we still get to be creative.”
In addition, Legrand wanted to make it clear that she and her team do respond to student feedback. For example, when she received messages from Latino students asking for a greater variety in foods, she agreed and is now creating a menu for Latin Night on Wednesday, March 22. She also said that some students do not know that all produce is directly from Russo’s in Watertown, so the food is local. When there is fish on campus it is called Catch of the Day because it actually was freshly delivered that day.
Legrand’s favorite thing to eat in Lower Usdan is stir fry, as “there are a bunch of fresh vegetables, you can be creative, and it is all gluten free.” Also, the teriyaki sauce is homemade! Legrand also said she loves to eat salmon, but they try to balance out the foods in the dining halls so one food is not repeated too often.
Her favorite part about working as executive chef is the student responses. “When I cook something special, and I get to hear the student reaction, that is my favorite part,” she said with a smile, and shared that she loves to hear a student say, “This is so good. I’m so happy!” Legrand and her team are working hard each week to satisfy students’ appetites and are hoping to bring all different kinds of foods to Lower over the course of this semester and beyond.