Dana Hall’s chef brings a new flavor to campus

The introduction of the new Student Center not only brings newer facilities and a work space for both faculty and students to enjoy during their breaks, but also a new head chef at the Dining Hall, Heather Pierce, and her culinary ideas.

Students and faculty alike have showered praise on many of the new recipes and menus this year. Some of these include the salmon for dinner, the curried chicken, the upgraded salad bar with its new variety and its fresh vegetables, and hummus and falafel day.

But despite the positive response Chef Heather and her team’s food have received, the head chef has set ambitious goals for this year. She laughed when she commented on the flow of the kitchen in the new dining hall. “I’m calling this the rebuilding year. We’re just trying to rebuild and find a rhythm as a kitchen and make sure that we keep trying to do more and more from scratch and just keep kind of coming up with new and fun ideas and staying up with food trends. And even desserts — I know that they haven’t been there. But we’re still trying to play catchup. We’re still trying to … build up in the back.”

But the head chef quickly grew serious as she mapped out her plans to improve the kitchen this year. Her soft-spoken demeanor never changed, but the resolve was evident in her voice as she stressed her goal of using more fresh ingredients to improve the quality of the food in the dining hall. “We’re trying to incorporate more fresh food, fresh vegetables. The protein is fresh too, not frozen, not processed. We try to bring it in and use it this week, do that as much as possible.”

Another important goal for Chef Heather is making more food from scratch. “Like our pancakes this morning,” the head chef nodded in the direction of the breakfast menu written on the board. “We no longer use a box mix. We’re slowly trying to incorporate as much as we can from from-scratch cooking. We’re running a little bit more this year, but we want to stand behind the food we’re putting out.” Chef Heather also wants to increase the variety of food served, especially from different cultures. “Tonight we’re doing pork buns. That’s something I love to do. Let’s bring different cultures, different countries, a little bit of everything.”

But most importantly, Chef Heather wants to serve what people want to eat, and she understands the importance of criticism. “I like to keep up with trends. I wanna know what you guys want. I want know what ideas you guys wanna see. And eventually we’ll get to that point.” The head chef remarked that direct communication by email has been effective with faculty but not students. She is thinking of a suggestion box or direct visits to her office. “I want to encourage an open-door policy. I want that criticism; we need it. If people don’t like it, we don’t want to keep putting it out. We’re always open to criticism, definitely. You have to constantly be ready for change.”

Chef Heather grew up around influential family figures that helped cultivate her love and appreciation for food and the culinary world. But it wasn’t until she was an adult that she understood that being a chef and cooking food could be more than just an hobby. She went to culinary school and worked at multiple restaurants before transitioning to working at schools.

“When I was working as a chef at a public school and I was offered to become a chef at Newton Country Day, I loved the idea of working at an all-girls school. I wanted to try it and see how it went. It was fun, and it was a great work atmosphere. But once I was offered to become Head Chef at Dana Hall School, that was an impassable offer.”

She added that the position has given her “the opportunity to experiment and try new things and offer new things to the tight knit community here at Dana. I love working here because people love to be here. Girls here are all leaders and want to learn and teachers enjoy teaching. And being a part of a community is amazing and such a great work environment to be a part of.”

Chef Heather feels at home at Dana. “I like being in the atmosphere of an all-girls school, because I see you guys, and you guys really take your education seriously, and the bonds that you guys form are just great. Even though I’m just in the kitchen, doing food, I feel like I’m a part of that,” she said, smiling. She is excited for the coming year. “We can only go up. As we try to find our rhythm in the kitchen, we want to keep bringing new ideas, and I love themes. I’m excited about community dinner this month. I’m hoping to have some fun with the next one.” The Dana community and Chef Heather have much to look forward to in the future. “I really do feel like this is my home now. I love it here,” she confessed.

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