Feeding Castilleja through a pandemic


Thea Dai

Students pick out their lunches at the newly reopened self-serve salad bar.

When Castilleja students and staff received an email from Chef Forrest detailing the return of full buffet service on October 18th, the reaction from the Casti community was nothing short of elation. One student, Moira King ‘23, who entered Castilleja as a new sophomore and had never experienced the full buffet service, summarized her initial thoughts by saying,“I was somewhat overwhelmed with excitement, and I think they did a really seamless job with the entire thing.”

But who made this transition to the pre-pandemic food service model possible? Chef Forrest, Director of Food Service, and Mrs. Graysmark, Director of Operations, sat down with me to describe their experience feeding Castilleja through a pandemic.

Before the shift back to full buffet service, Castilleja students had received brown bag lunches when the school reopened in November 2020, and the transition into the modified buffet service began in May 2021. However, what went unnoticed was the commitment to safety and hard work displayed by the food service team.

Mrs. Graysmark, Chef Forrest, and their team adjusted their operations countless times and ventured into unforeseen territories . Mrs. Graysmark highlighted the lack of guidance from local health mandates by saying, “There would be like a paragraph about food service, so there was very little direction.”

Even when contactless ordering was the standard, the food service team focused on providing a varied menu with accommodations to various dietary restrictions. This process required a huge production force and demanded the food service staff to work tirelessly to prepare each meal. In the winter, when the doors and windows had to be open to allow ventilation, the staff had to wear coats and gloves while they worked.

As a result of the switch to bagged lunches, the food distribution generated an increased amount of waste due to the individual packaging. Chef Forrest remarked, “Going into the pandemic, waste was the top priority and trying to have a small footprint… but that shifted almost overnight.” To make up for this necessary change, the food service team shifted to compostable packaging to further minimize the school’s carbon footprint.

While the food service model shifted during the pandemic, the job descriptions of the food service staff evolved alongside the ever-changing responsibilities of the department. Chef Forrest highlighted the morphing obligations of the staff by saying, “There were times when we were doing things that had nothing to do with food.” Mrs. Graysmark and Chef Forrest also described how the shifts in job duties over the pandemic necessitated flexibility from their staff; they commended every team member for following through.

After the long journey of many unprecedented obstacles, Chef Forrest and Mrs. Graysmark shared the student body’s excitement about the shift back to full buffet service, exclaiming that “the transition to the full buffet was really seamless.” After an 18-month break from the buffet, Chef Forrest remarked that he was “super proud of the staff and how quickly they were able to flex that old muscle.” Even with four broken plates on the day of the buffet return, the Castilleja community is relieved to have this one piece of pre-pandemic life back at Castilleja.