The Oberlin Review
<< Front page News October 14, 2005

Off the Cuff: Gina Fusco

Gina Fusco is in charge of running Wilder DeCafé, the Rathskeller and the Science Center Cart. She has worked for Bon Appétit Management Company for more than seven years and has been in food service since she was young. She holds a degree in International Business from the American Institute of Banking. This is her fifth year at Oberlin.

I know that Bon Appétit strives to work toward making environmentally-friendly choices, serving in a sustainable fashion and supporting local vendors. How have these goals been put into action?
Oberlin is kind of our test-market for using biodegradable products, which we use 100 percent of at the Science Cart. The plastic-looking bowls and flatware are actually made of wheat and cornstarch and the plastic-looking bags are wood pulp. All of our smoothie cups at DeCafé are Greenware, an easily biodegradable product, and our grocery bags are now the earth bags. As these things become more affordable, students will see them in more places.

Local vendors are the other part of being environmentally-friendly. We buy have less of a fuel impact on the environment with transportation and everything that that entails. We support local vendors because of this, number one. Number two is that it keeps money in the community and number three is that [when] the product is local, it’s fresher. With produce, it’s only been out of the ground for 24 hours before it’s on your plate. Typically, the quality and prices are better, and they are using less preservatives and chemicals as opposed to those transported in semi-trucks from across the country. We used to buy five-percent locally grown products, and now we’ve increased that to 25 to 30%, depending on sustainability and availability.

You recently did a day in which all of the food served came from within a 150-mile radius of Oberlin. How did that work?
Every Bon Appétit in the country did that that day. We thought it really would be relatively easy to do the Eat Local Challenge because we do this sort of purchasing throughout the year. However, it really was a challenge to create an entire meal. Everything that we purchased had to include all-local ingredients. There is no local oil, which I would have used to cook the chicken, and I didn’t want to cook chicken in butter. And then I thought wine, but the yeast in the wine was not from Ohio, so I ended up glazing the chicken in honey from the aviary down the street and apple cider from Elyria. It made the managers and the chefs get really creative. We probably served 2500-3000 meals and absolutely everything came from within a 150-mile radius. It was an extremely fresh meal. Theresa [Varvir of Dascomb] and I were picking veggies at Jones’ Farm the day before the Eat Local Challenge. I feel sure we’ll do this challenge again.

What are some new ideas, goals or innovations that you or Bon Appétit are considering?
I think probably taking this Eat Local Challenge to the next level and trying to do it more often. One thing that I have been investigating around here is that when I went to Amish Country, there are farmers with greenhouses, and so I was trying to get a couple of them to see if they wanted to try to grow tomatoes. They have to get creative with where their income comes from in the winter, and we’re trying to figure out what they could grow produce-wise for us. A big-goal of Bon Appétit at this point is to strengthen the Farm to Fork program. [This program is where each Bon Appetit manager reaches out to the local community within a 150-mile radius and brings their produce back to the dining hall and serves it within 48 hours.]

We’re also participating in the Seafood Watch and adhering to what Monterey Bay Aquarium directs us in terms of purchasing to try to save the oceans and its animals. That’s why we’re doing the Save the Seafood Tour, a program coming to Oberlin on Nov. 1 — that will have speakers from the Monterey Aquarium and local speakers talking about sustainability in terms of seafood.

Can you tell me about the difficulties of running Wilder and the Science Cart?
Space is the biggest issue — storage space, with the cart having gotten extremely popular. We [at Wilder] support that. Our staff makes the sandwiches and salads, which means I have to warehouse all of the items that go with that in addition to all of the cases and cases of beverages and yogurts that are only delivered once or twice a week. Wilder was already busting at the seams, and we’re trying to investigate some storage opportunities in the other locations. That’s the biggest challenge.

But I love running this place! The staff is great — they are amazing. We are busier than ever with the Science Cart, and they have handled it well.

Is it hard to balance demands from the Union, Bon Appétit, the administration and the students?
It’s not easy. I personally don’t have too much problem in that area. It is difficult for lots of reasons, everybody has a different set of standards, of likes and dislikes. We try to meet the student needs first and foremost and I try to keep my building and this account to the Bon Appétit standards of service, and then of course beyond that we need to meet all of the client needs that don’t fall in either of those categories.

It’s always challenging having to rely on student labor. I have 14 regular UAW employees and somewhere around 100 students because of the lengthy hours of operation here: seven days a week, 18 hours a day. It’s hard to get consistent training among these students, which is the biggest labor issue. There are so many and they work such short shifts. But I have a wonderful UAW staff here; without their hard work, this place would fall apart.

Are there parts of your job here at Oberlin that are unique or different than the norm because of the character of the College or the students?
Yes, and a lot of that is a good thing. This is the third college I’ve worked at in addition to visiting other campuses. Oberlin is the most exciting one for me so far because of how involved the students are in everything. At other colleges, students eat and they don’t care, as long as they are fed. It’s not always easy dealing with the level of involvement at Oberlin; obviously, they have lots of questions as to why we do and don’t do certain things, because they don’t understand. But they will come and ask us and actually listen to us about it. We have good conversations as to how things can be improved. It’s refreshing. The students have good ideas and they seem to really care. This is the first college I’ve been at where there’s this level of involvement by students, and it’s actually very cool.

Do you eat at DeCafé?
I absolutely do. I eat here every day. I spend 12 hours a day here sometimes, and I’d go hungry if I didn’t. And the food is good! The Rathskeller has some of the best food in Oberlin. Cook Linda Barnes is great. And students can eat there, too! There isn’t anything in here I wouldn’t eat — except, as a vegetarian, the meat.


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