Inside Harvard’s Tunnels: Leverett House’s “Behind the Scenes” Kitchen Tour

Arthur Robins and students in Harvard’s central kitchen

Last Thursday, the team of Leverett’s FLP Rep Gary Gerbrandt and HUDS Unit Manager Arthur Robins led a group of 10 students on a behind the scene tour of Leverett’s kitchen facilities and Harvard’s central kitchen. Beginning in the kitchen, we observed chefs preparing small batches of Chicken Parmesan and Quinoa Stuffed Portobello. We saw the size of our walk-in refrigeration and discussed our “just in time” purchasing practices.

Some vendors — such as those who provide us with our milk, bread and produce — deliver 6 days a week.  Our main grocery purveyor does so three times a week. With more frequent orders, we can control food waste and order only as much as we need.

Some interesting statistics about Leverett House: we serve around 360 – 400 meals each lunch and dinner, a total around 6,000 meals a week. In the average week we will purchase 750 pieces of grilled chicken, 1,800 eggs and 130 gallons of milk, and 40 cents of every food purchasing dollar is spent on fresh vegetables (guess we eat more than just Red Spiced Chicken).

From Leverett, we walked down the stairs and into the infamous tunnel system. To support the five River Houses, Harvard built a system of tunnels that travel from Leverett to JFK Street. Besides moving product and trash, they also contain food and equipment storage and production areas. Students were especially entertained peeping through the tray return window into the Winthrop Dining Room.

A view through the dish return to Winthrop Dining Hall

At the end of the tunnel we entered the shared spaces of Crimson Catering and the Culinary Support Group.  In this kitchen almost 300 gallons of soup are prepared every day for distribution to all of the undergraduate houses.  Other items prepared in this central kitchen include propriety sauces, custom sliced chicken meat, marinated beef for Korean Barbecue and some composed vegetable and grain salads.  For the houses with limited cooking capabilities like Leverett, the CSG also cooks large kettles of pasta every day.  It was fascinating to see such large equipment including two 100 gallon and two gigantic 150 gallon steam heated soup kettles.

We discussed how Harvard has implemented the National Restaurant Association’s H.A.C.C.P. standards of food safety and risk assessment, exceeding the City of Cambridge’s health codes. — Arthur Robins

All told, it was an amazing time; everyone who came on the tour had a unique peep into the story of their food, watching it make its long, complicated way to the serveries—and, from there, the mouths—of Harvard. Future tours will follow the same network of tunnels and will bring members of the Harvard community more in touch with their food. Watch for the FLP’s emails and make sure you try to come! — Gary, Leverett House FLP

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