In the stress of having two major assignments due in a week, a daunting midterm and extracurricular commitments, college students are likely to fall into an apathetic slump. It’s easy to unwind from classes by sitting in our rooms and binge watching Netflix until the clock dictates that we have to start that five page paper we’ve been putting off. While rest and relaxation are necessary and healthy, sometimes we should take a step back and think about how we could be utilizing our time better — not for our own benefit, but for the benefit of others.
“I can’t help with the fundraiser, because I still have to study for my chemistry test/write a paper/prepare a presentation. But good luck with your fundraiser!” I know quite well that these things are time-consuming and important, but their importance does not outweigh our obligation to be involved in causes that extend beyond our university.
As Emory students, we have access to a nigh unparalleled higher education experience. But there is still a culture of indifference to those issues that are not right in front of us, even though these problems are all too real.
This issue is greater than simply forgetting how fortunate we are to be at this institution. When we neglect the problems of the world, we’re wasting the reason why we’re at Emory in the first place: to cultivate the knowledge and skills to improve the world beyond campus.
Going to college does not mean taking a four-year break from improving the world. Professors who have spent their lives studying patterns in political structures don’t teach us about governments neglecting the interests of their people just so we can spit the information back onto an exam. What we learn from renowned chemistry researchers isn’t supposed to supersede our awareness of global health issues.
Yet, we have become so wrapped up in our own lives that we think we can’t spare the 30 minutes we would have spent procrastinating on Facebook to participate in an event that raises money to build a school in Uganda.Are we all really too busy meticulously proofreading our papers that we don’t have one Saturday morning to participate in a 5k that would help distribute HIV/AIDS treatment?
The question, then, is why should people get involved?
Because it matters.
How much more unwilling would you be to go to your 8:00AM if you had to walk 10 miles instead of 10 minutes to get there? How many more annual physicals would you skip if you knew you couldn’t afford not only the healthcare, but also the bus fare to get there?
If all of us knew that students in rural Uganda without an education are three times more likely to be HIV-positive than those with a secondary school education, or that it would only take $10 to provide five people with transportation to an HIV/AIDS clinic in Rwanda, maybe we would be more likely to help.
The fact that many of us don’t take the time to think about the greater purpose behind being a student means that we need to re-contextualize our education and reshape our undergraduate experience.
It’s alarming that putting our smaller problems in perspective somehow becomes a dismissed cliché. A “think about all the starving people in Africa” comment when we complain about the food at the DUC gets an eye-roll. So we stop thinking about it. And when we stop thinking, we stop caring.
I propose that we start caring again. This isn’t a call to join every group that even remotely helps a developing nation or that you should spend 5 hours each day volunteering for a different non-profit.
But it is a call to recognize that the point of our undergraduate education is not to get so caught up in academics that we forget to support one another as we strive to make real changes.
We stress out so much over these small road bumps we hit on “our way to becoming a real person.” But we have to stop ignoring the actual work of being a person in the world.
So be a person. Be a person who cares about issues that are next door and issues that are 7,000 miles away. And then be a person who takes action and contributes to the change.
- By Isabelle Saldana
He chose culinary school over college, the title of “kitchen grunt” over “engineering major,” and the satisfaction of cooking a perfect filet mignon over solving a numerical analysis equation. Now, at 47, Michel Wetli is applying his years of experience in the kitchen and passion for cooking, as well as his mathematic, business and leadership skills to please his “toughest” customers yet: college students.
As the general manager and campus executive chef at Emory University, Chef Wetli is focusing on satisfying collegiate taste buds while also looking for ways to integrate local and sustainable foods into Emory’s on-campus dining program.
Sustainable food has better quality and helps support local farmers, explains Wetli. He is continuously designing menus that utilize local and seasonable products from farms in Georgia, including White Oak Pastures and Springer Mountain Farms. He works with the Sustainable Food Committee at Emory to help it achieve its goal of procuring 75 percent of ingredients throughout campus cafeterias and hospitals from local or sustainably-grown sources by 2015.
Wetli became interested in sustainability in 1987 when he was a chef at Pinon’s Restaurant in Aspen, Colo., which offers local, wild game from a ranch 40 miles away and wild-caught fish on its menu. Since then, “Sustainability has been interwoven throughout my career,” explains Wetli. “When I came to Emory, it worked out wonderfully since Emory was doing work in other areas of sustainability.”
Emory’s sustainability program is the largest that Wetli has been a part of, but he never let that intimidate him. The program has improved significantly since his arrival on campus eight years ago, according to Todd Schram, director of operations for Emory Dining.
Under Wetli’s management, “Emory Dining continues to be a leader, nationally among colleges and universities,” stated Schram, who associates Wetli’s numerous attributes with the program’s success.
“He is very knowledgeable, professional, disciplined and experienced…you don’t find too many really good chefs who are really good managers, but Michel is one of the exceptions,” said Schram. “We would be a different team and a different operation without Michel.”
Wetli’s journey to Emory began in 1965 in Ottawa, Canada, when he was born into a family of food enthusiasts. His father was a chef for various hotels in Toronto and Montreal, including the Royal York Hotel, and his grandfather was the corporate executive chef for the hotel department of the Canadian Pacific Railway.
Wetli lived in Canada for only two years after which his father left the hotel industry to work for LSG Sky Chefs, an airline catering company in Detroit, and he took the family with him to the U.S. They moved frequently throughout the following 18 years because of the airline food service business, so Wetli grew up in a variety of states across the U.S., including Michigan, California, Colorado and Pennsylvania. Despite his American upbringing, Wetli was frequently exposed to Dutch, Swiss and Jamaican cuisines, because his mother was born and raised in Holland and his father, who was also half Swiss, in Jamaica.
“Being a chef is kind of in the blood,” Wetli explains with a subtle smile, while reminiscing about his childhood and how his taste buds and passion for food developed at an early age. He recalled the main rule his dad enforced at the dinner table when growing up: “You at least have to try it even when you’re a little kid.” The influence of these rules showed when Wetli turned 15 years old and decided to cook professionally at Maxwell’s Too, a local pizza shop in Denver.
At the time Wetli also showed signs of a promising future in engineering because of his exceptional skills in math, so it looked as if he was going to follow a traditional collegiate path. He was taking college preparatory classes for engineering while still in high school and “was probably going to be an engineer, the way I was going through life,” recalled Wetli. “But I just started cooking and fell in love with it and just couldn’t stop.”
Wetli made the decision to pursue a career as a chef at 18 years old, when his parents moved from Colorado to new jobs in Pittsburgh. He told them, “I’m staying here.” Wetli spent the next year working for the hotel restaurant in the Denver Hilton Inn South to make money before attending the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y.
After graduating in 1987, Wetli attended Madeleine Kamman’s School for Young American Chefs in the Beringer Vineyards of Napa Valley, Calif. Since his graduation in 1990, Wetli worked as an executive chef for more than six restaurants, including Stone Mansion Restaurant in Pittsburgh and the Rockaway River Country Club in Denville, N.J. He has also cooked for Princess Diana of Wales, one of the Saudi Arabian Princes, the Dalai Lama and President Jimmy Carter.
Wetli’s cooking style is rooted in classic technique, and is still evolving because of the extensive traveling he does with his wife, Kathleen. He takes what he learns from each country and recreates the authentic ethnic dishes back in the U.S., since “my favorite dish to cook is my next dish, the one I haven’t made.”
His culinary education and experience in fine dining restaurants also shows in his cooking style; he takes the preparation of every dish very seriously, paying particular attention to flavor combinations. “You could have a normal steak, and I could take it and make it taste like something you’ve never had before,” said Wetli.
So how did he end up working in a large-scale position at a campus after 25 years of restaurant work? Wetli said he “wanted a change” and to “just keep progressing.”
He was working for Sodexo, the leading provider of integrated food and facilities management services in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, before he was initially hired as Emory University’s campus executive chef in 2004. He became the general manager as well in 2009, which allows him to exercise the mathematical talents that he gave up to become a chef.
“Balancing budgets, running P&Ls…that came naturally,” says Wetli. “Being able to combine that and be a chef; that’s been great.”
According to recent surveys, diner satisfaction has increased over 30 percent since Wetli became general manager, and the campus is also used as a showcase for Sodexo North America.
Improving Emory Dining is not an easy job, though. Wetli is in the Dobbs University Center (DUC) kitchen from lunch until dinner, working with the chefs and staff members to make sure everything is in order, from the moment the doors open for breakfast to when they close after dinner.
“He is willing to work extremely hard to improve Emory Dining,” said Karoline Porcello, an undergraduate student at Emory University and co-chair on the Food Advisory Committee at Emory (FACE).
Michael Sacks, an undergraduate student at Emory University and the other co-chair on FACE, particularly admires Wetli’s quick responses to student requests. He recalled one day when “we asked for eggplant parmesan for dinner and he made it happen without hesitation.”
Wetli makes things happen by being an authoritative presence in the kitchen through his energy, enthusiasm and attention to food preparation. The multicultural Canadian of medium-height, with short gray hair and a clean-shaven face, moves from one food station to another, lending helpful tips to employees and some compliments for encouragement. He is always wearing black dress pants and shoes and a button-down shirt and tie, so Wetli is hard to miss among the steaming stovetops and bustling employees in aprons.
Amidst the whirl of daily meal preparation and service, you can tell Wetli still “really loves his job,” said Barbara Jones, a staff member for Emory Dining at the DUC and a resident of Atlanta.
Not even the harsh food critics of Emory University can discourage Wetli with complaints, for he uses them as motivation to ensure things are better the next day, by taking an honest and hands-on approach with his staff.
According to Jones, “Every morning we all have a pre-service meeting with him, and he tells us the facts, the dos and the don’ts, what he requests of us…If it’s good, he lets us know it’s good, and if it’s bad, he lets us know it’s bad.”
Wetli also makes a difference outside of Emory’s campus by applying his take-charge approach to charity work. He likes to “empower people” and did exactly so while working at Top of the Triangle in Pittsburgh from 1997 to 2001, when he started a program for recent prison inmates that provided entry-level jobs such as dishwashing or food prep. He recalled one particular prison inmate who contacted Wetli more than 10 years later as an executive chef in Miami, thanking him for helping him out. “It’s just that one person,” said Wetli. “That’s all it takes.”
When he is not in the kitchen, traveling or doing charity work, Wetli is working through stacks of papers at his desk, managing and overseeing labor and food costs, financial reports, customer service and chef training. Because the math whiz enjoys the business side of his work, Wetli considers his current senior management position the ideal job. “I would love to stay at Emory for the rest of my life if I could,” says Wetli.
Although he admits to having serious and straightforward sides, outside of work Wetli is an adventure enthusiast who is into extreme sports, including snow skiing, scuba diving and mountain biking. You might also find him gardening, fishing or even refinishing and restoring old furniture in his free time.
He describes himself as mainly “a fun-loving person” who enjoys family and good times, even though he and his wife, who married in 1997, do not have any children. They enjoy teaching their nieces and nephews how to cook and having friends and family over for dinner at their home in Decatur, Ga.
Looking back on the decisions he has made since his teenage years, Wetli is more than pleased with how his life has turned out. The quote at the end of his bio in bold, capital letters says it all: “Love life, love my wife & love to cook!”
— By Beatrice Rosen
When I first came to Emory, my relationship with food was evolving. As a freshman, I was careless in a sprawling city, my appetite at the mercy of a cafeteria that closed at 8 p.m. and ran short of food an hour earlier. The Dobbs Market, more often called the DUC, was the unfortunate gooey center of my culinary existence.
Now, there is hope for future Emory undergraduates.
Last week, the Dobbs University Center (DUC) tested new operating hours that kept the gates up until 10 p.m., instead of the usual 8 p.m. The kitchen also experimented with a “Premium Night,” during which students could have high-quality foods at the cost of one meal swipe, plus an additional $5.
I was skeptical when I heard “premium,” “DUC” and “additional $5” all in one sentence. And then when a DUC manager reportedly said that the food would be “higher quality than what you get at most restaurants,” I figured Pinocchio was running the entire operation.
Come Premium Night last Wednesday, I walked into the DUC at 6 p.m. only to discover that the special meals would be served between 8 and 10 p.m. Maybe I missed a sign or email, but that was news to me. Two hours later, with my ticket in hand, I found a line of students waiting in front of the grill station. A DUC employee was asking students for their names and how they would like their steak cooked.
Within 15 minutes, I had a 12 oz. N.Y. Strip covered in mushroom gravy and charred to a perfect medium-rare resting in front of me. The verdict? Nom.
Friends asked me whether the steak was worth the additional cost. As someone who once paid $80 for a bowl of soup, I sometimes question whether I’m the best person to make value judgments. But all things aside, yes — that steak was very much worth it, being as fine of a steak a meal swipe will ever get you.
A majority of those waiting in line ordered their steaks medium-rare. Good for them. But those who asked for well-done should reconsider their life choices. Ordering a steak well-done is like going to your prom wearing flip-flops and a Hawaiian shirt: it’s wrong and hurts everybody involved. To many chefs, cooking a steak well-done is masochistic. Why would anyone voluntarily grill (and probably burn) a piece of meat to the bone-dry end of its existence?
The DUC served Choice steaks, the second highest grade of beef under Prime according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It’s a good cut with enough marbling (fat) to be tender with minimal time on the grill. The bloodier, the better.
I have heard that members of the Food Advisory Committee at Emory (FACE) were happy with the trial run, and that Sodexo is now considering implementing Premium Nights multiple times a week. All the power to them. As a freshman, I watched my peers raid vending machines for Pop-Tarts. Others bought tubs of frosting and used their fingers as spoons. These people need help, and Premium Nights could give students the refined meal they need.
Moving forward, I have questions about variety and procedure. Michel Wetli, the DUC’s general manager and the chef who manned the grill, says that eggplant parmesan was offered alongside the premium steak option that night. But will there be a separate, premium vegetarian option? And if this Premium Night gets popular, can a cooked-to-order system work? For steaks in particular, the process could become a kitchen nightmare.
Nevertheless, I remain hopeful that these new hours and special meals become a regular part of dining at the DUC. The steaks were a strong start, and I hope the DUC can maintain the momentum. If not, we’re all doomed to more Pop-Tarts.
— By Evan Mah
If a “Stuff Emory Freshmen Say” video is ever made, one thing it must include is freshmen throwing a tantrum and yelling, “The DUC food is so nasty; I can’t take it anymore!” In the past month, I’ve heard this statement, or similar ones, repeatedly from numerous freshmen. Frankly, it vexes me a bit everytime I hear it.
I honestly have had more days when I enjoyed the DUC food as opposed to when I sat with my friends, looking at the food with murderous stares, and complained about it. I will go even further to say that since August 25th, I have not had a single day when I was unable to tolerate the food at the DUC.
It is quite obvious that my view does not resonate with the majority of Emory freshmen, or even all students. A common question upperclassmen ask me is whether I am tired and sick of the DUC food yet.
In the end, it all boils down to perception. When I sit down to eat at the DUC, images of greasy yellow pizzas, half-cooked patties from burgers, and other unpleasant, and perhaps inedible, food from high school comes to mind.
It suddenly makes sense for me to appreciate the food here after comparing it to the food available at my high school.
Taste is perhaps the most subjective of all the senses. I was relieved to discover that I was not the only freshman who felt the food at the DUC was not disgusting. At a dinner last week, Freshman Angel Hsu boldly declared, “I feel as if this is the first time in my life I’m enjoying eating!”
Yes, I can understand the frustration of many students as they are paying a fortune (at least in my eyes) for the meal plans, and the food is not quite equivalent to that of a five-star restaurant.
Is the food really that bad? Are we ever satisfied with what we have? Next time you sit there, with plates of food in front of you, please take a brief moment to think about those who would die to eat what you are throwing away.
I want to make it very clear that in praising, or at least appreciating, the DUC food, I am solely focused on the taste of the food, and not the nutrition of the food. Various arguments could be made concerning the unhealthy food at the DUC. I would much rather hear complaints about the nutrition of the food instead of the taste of it.
And, for those of you who are wondering, the answer is no.
No one from the DUC paid me to write this.
Rifat Mursalin is a College Freshman from Atlanta, Georgia.