In the Kitchen of Bon Appétit with Ms. Abby Trotter
Bon Appétit represents many things: in its nominal form, it is a sentiment; to us, it is also a business and an integral part of our Catalina community. The French expression “Bon appétit” means, “Enjoy your meal,” and every single day the Bon Appétit company works hard to ensure every single student, faculty member, and visitor does just this–enjoy their meal. When talking to Ms. Abby Trotter, the General Manager of Bon Appétit, she discussed the daily process Bon Appétit follows to prepare three meals a day for students and families, and what first drew her into the food industry.
When asked what drew her into the culinary business, Ms. Trotter said, “I have always loved to cook. After graduating from Purdue University in Indiana with a history degree, I wasn’t sure what to do. It felt like I either had to go to law school or become a professor. I love children, so I stalled by spending a year as a nanny. I had to cook three meals a day for them, and I found that I really enjoyed it — I looked forward to cooking something new every day! It struck me that this would be a rewarding job to enter into. I had cooked before — in college I needed a job, and one of my friends who worked at a fine-dining restaurant said they needed help. I started in what’s called the pantry station, where I made salads and desserts. After my time as a nanny, I went to the New England Culinary Institute. I’ve been a fish cook for Roy’s in Pebble Beach and lunch cook at Gayle’s Bakery in Capitola (where in fact, they still serve a salad I developed). I was a pastry cook and then was promoted to pastry chef at Bernardus Lodge in Carmel Valley, and I did pastries at Carmel Valley Ranch in Carmel Valley for a Christmas season. In 2009 I left the food business for a little while and transitioned into management in the retail industry. I then joined Bon Appétit Management Company in 2015 as general manager at the Santa Catalina School.”
Switching over to discussing the details behind preparing and serving three meals a day for our Catalina community, Ms. Trotter illustrated what exactly goes on in the kitchen and behind the scenes. She explained, “It is a team effort. Executive Chef Kurt Boucher writes the menus a month ahead of time, and I review them. We aim to use the best of what’s in season and offer new things as well as the students’ favorites. Our team sees the menu the week before so they can plan their preparations. Our morning crew comes in at 6:00 a.m. to make breakfast. We have a pantry cook, Gundege Nigale, who prepares everything for the salad bar fresh every day. Our cooks then make two fresh soups and get the food prepared for Upper School and Lower School lunch. Once lunch is over, the process begins again with our nighttime cooks. It’s a lot of pre-planning and ordering ahead of time and making sure we have ordered enough for service.”
While pre-planning and acting ahead of time can sound terrifying to some people, the Bon Appétit team has proved that they are up to the job. However, no person and no company is perfect, so when asked what unexpected challenges Ms. Trotter has faced, she answered, “A chef’s life has really been glamorized thanks to the Food Network and reality shows. Most of it is about hard work, with long days and nights. You need to be great at multitasking. Here’s one of the funniest memories I have of cooking — it was on the day of a big catering job for a wedding. I had made the wedding cakes, and I just had to make the finishing decorations. Well, I dropped two of the cakes. I have never had to make two more cakes so quickly in my life!” While everyone struggles with making mistakes, Ms. Trotter’s story illustrates that one must not give up, and that they must persevere, finish the job at hand, and be reassured that one day they will be able to look back and laugh at what might have seemed like a catastrophic incident at the time.
Finally, when asked why she loves working with Bon Appétit, Ms. Trotter replied, “Working in a kitchen is like working with a family. Everyone is here because they love to cook, they love food, and they want to share that love with others. Working at Santa Catalina is special to me because I went to boarding school myself, at Suffield Academy in Connecticut. We had to work community service in our school, and I was the supervisor for the student dishwashing team in my senior year. All students also had to be a server for their tables, as we all had mandatory seating for lunch and dinner. That is where I began to appreciate how much work goes into producing and serving meals. I always had fond memories of the kitchen staff at my school and the sense of community that I always felt when the entire school ate together for lunch and dinner. I hold those experiences close to my heart and want to hopefully make some of those same experiences for others.” Without a doubt, the Bon Appétit team definitely makes an impression on not just the appetites of their customers but also on the hearts of the Catalina community.