A seasoned chef from the Four Seasons Hotel is stirring things up in MIT's largest kitchen. Peter Dumke, who was senior sous-chef at the Four Seasons until December 1999, is now executive chef of MIT Catering and Lobdell Dining.
The switch from $55 dinners served on fine china and silver to $5.50 meals on plastic trays may sound like a step in the wrong direction, but for Mr. Dumke, the challenge was irresistible.
"The ad for this job said, 'Feeding parties of 10 to 15,000' and I thought, 'That sounds like a challenge,'" said Mr. Dumke about his decision to apply for the job with Aramark, which holds the contract for MIT's food services. "Pete won't be bored," he added.
After 12 years of increasing responsibility at the Four Seasons, he was looking for a change. During his years with the hotel, Mr. Dumke worked under five different chefs in the hotel's five kitchens: kosher, pastry, two restaurants and a banquet facility.
"It was neat to do someone's wedding and know that I helped to make it special. It almost granted me immortality because I live on as part of their lives, their memories," he said.
At MIT, he helped make memories of the Millennium Ball, a January event that served special desserts to 2,000 people, and gave him more than a little anxiety during the planning stage.
"I ordered cakes for 1,500, but a week before the ball they told me only 60 tickets had been sold," he said. In the end, 2,000 people showed up and "cleaned out our ice cream supply."
Aramark has recently hired four other chefs to manage MIT's food services. Susan Schmit, manager of the House Dining Programs, comes from Boston University Catering and has been executive chef at prestigious California hotels. David Wurzel, chef manager of Networks, is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America who most recently was catering chef at a gourmet grocery. Barbara Tannenbaum, manager of Walker Memorial, is an award-winning pastry chef, and Gregg Dyer, executive chef at the Faculty Club, came to MIT from the Harvard Club of Boston and Davio's of Cambridge. He is a graduate of the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts.
Richard Berlin, director of campus dining, said the decision to hire chef managers reflects a general emphasis for MIT's food service on finding people with both managerial and culinary skills.
"We plan to showcase Peter's talents and those of our entire culinary team with new recipes and programs that actively involve the MIT community. Cooking classes and culinary competitions are two such examples," said Mr. Berlin.
A graduate of the Essex Agricultural and Technical Institute, Mr. Dumke said his favorite recipes are for braised meats, but he's very interested in providing a wide variety of freshly prepared foods for the MIT community. The new Global Spin station in Lobdell offers a fine sampling of this diversity. Each week a different regional cuisine is offered, with slight menu changes daily.
He's also enjoying having some of his weekends free to spend with his family in Danvers. The 39-year-old said that last month he was able to take his two high school-aged sons skiing for the first time ever.
And yes, he takes his work home with him; he does most of the cooking for his wife and sons.
"I'm the only nut in the neighborhood who has his grill set up in the backyard -- in the snow," he said.
Pan-roasted tilapia with somen noodles and miso broth
(Editor's note, 5/2002: This recipe originally called for using Chilean sea bass. Due to current concerns of over-fishing of this species, we have substituted tilapia.)
(The following is a recipe developed by Peter Dumke, executive chef with MIT Catering.)
This dish can be made with any light white fish.
11/2 pounds tilapia
4 bundles somen noodles, cooked and drained
1 ounce shredded nori sheets
1/4 cup shiitaki mushroom caps, steamed and cut into strips
1/4 ounce black sesame seeds
2 tablespoons miso paste (yellow shinshï¿½ï¿½-miso)
1 cup chicken stock or dashi
1/4 cup spinach, cooked, drained and chopped
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons whole butter (optional)
Freshly ground pepper
Scallion or seaweed garnish
Preheat oven to 375ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½.
Clean bass of bones and sinew, cut into six-ounce portions, rinse and pat dry. Season fillets with salt and pepper. Sprinkle top of each fillet with a pinch of the shredded nori and the black sesame seeds. Set aside.
In a small saucepot, heat chicken stock and stir in the miso. Keep warm. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat and quickly sear the fish with the nori side down first to seal the nori on. After approximately two minutes, turn over each fillet and place pan in preheated oven. Cooking time will depend on the thickness of the fillets, but a two-inch thick piece should take approximately 8-12 minutes. The flesh will be firm and begin to flake easily.
When fish is done, bring stock and miso broth to a boil and add the cooked somen noodles, shiitaki mushrooms and spinach. Finish by stirring in the optional butter (the butter adds extra richness to the broth).
Divide the broth and its ingredients into four bowls. Top with the roasted fillets and garnish with scallion slivers or rehydrated seaweed.
Note: For seaweed garnish, try kaiso dried seaweed, a blend of dried seaweeds including red ogo, wakame and others. Soak in hot water for one minute and drain.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on February 16, 2000.