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Updated 10:00 AM April 17, 2006




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Spotlight: Making magic in the kitchen

"I don't know what we are having for lunch today, but I can tell you what we are having in two weeks," says Holly Downey, dining services supervisor for the Lawyer's Club.
(Photo by Scott Galvin, U-M Photo Services)

For 82 years prospective attorneys have eaten meals in the Club in the Law Quadrangle. And for 82 years someone has been supervising staff, designing menus, ordering ingredients and serving students who once came to dinner in suits and ties but who now dine in an array of attire that often includes jeans and baseball caps.

For 17 of those years Downey has made sure law students received three meals a day—with fare that is attractive, nutritious and tasty.

Following an internship in food service at U-M while working on a bachelor's degree from the University of Wisconsin-Stout, Downey became a full-time U-M staff member. She's now responsible for planning and serving more than 450 individual meals each day at the Lawyer's Club, meals that are planned three weeks in advance with the aid of computer software that includes an extensive recipe database.

"It [the database] then generates the recipes that I planned in the amounts that I determined, along with order sheets for all of the ingredients necessary to produce food for that week," Downey says. She also works with cooks to plan the upcoming weeks' meals and listens to concerns about staffing or equipment needs.

Downey says she tries to be in the dining room or the kitchen when the Lawyers Club is open—11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. and 5:30-7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 5-6 p.m. Sunday.

With all of her responsibilities, Downey says, "It is not so much keeping a positive attitude as it is never letting the customer know that anything is going wrong."

This includes finding the right answers to all questions.

For instance, Downey says when she was just starting out as a supervisor, a guest asked her if the soft-serve ice cream was made from cow's milk or pig's milk. (It comes from cows.) "Remember, this was also 20 years ago, when many food items (such as self serve ice cream) were not as readily available as they are now," she says.

In addition to supervising the Lawyers Club dining hall, Downey serves as the committee chair and runs the internship program for the National Association of College and University Food Services.

Every summer two interns come to the University for eight weeks and spend time in the kitchen learning from everyone, including cooks, salad staff, kitchen cleaners and stock keepers. Interns work opening and closing shifts and produce a project each summer.

This year's interns will reevaluate the current suggestion card system and develop a new one, in addition to exploring a catering menu for student use.

Downey spends the summer planning student experiences and follows up on the progress of other interns around the nation. This year Downey and her support staff logged data on 187 people and interviewed 165.

A dietetics major in college, Downey says she loves to work with college students, whether they are her employees or residents. "It is fun to work with them and watch them grow," she says. "It also keeps me youngish."

Eileen Shields, a fellow food services supervisor at the Lawyers Club hall, says Downey embraces every challenge, and learns the name of every law student that comes through the dining room.

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