02.01.19

By: Micah McIntyre

In the first few days of any new semester, it does not take long for students to pick out small changes that have been made around campus. This semester, the biggest change made was behind the scenes of Anderson Commons. Bon Appetit has made a major change to their staff and brought on accomplished chef and restaurant owner, Roger Herring, as their new executive chef. The Record sat down with him to hear more about his experiences as a chef and his vision for Wheaton College.

How long have you been cooking? When did you realize this is what you wanted to do professionally?

I guess I remember cooking [and] working with my mom and dad in the kitchen. My dad used to always make special eggs on Saturdays at home. I remember, probably even going back before I was even seven, doing a lot of that and helping him. I used to do a lot baking with my mom and she was always a good cook. [But] I’ve been working in fish markets and kitchens since I was 16.  After about three and a half years of college and trying to figure out what I wanted to do, I just figured I would do what I was already doing and that was cooking.

What brought you here to Wheaton? Why did you take this position?

I was doing the backstage thing and all the restaurant things in the city and then I just left a hotel that I was at for a few years [where] I did a lot of volume. I got on LinkedIn one day and [this recruiter] sent me a message back right away that she was looking for someone to fill this position. It wasn’t something I would have thought of to apply for, but when she mentioned it to me, it seemed like a great fit. I think when you cook for the same people everyday, in a situation like this where I can actually meet the students … versus somebody that’s coming into a hotel or a restaurant, you get used to cooking for them and hopefully you make their day better every day.

Could you say more about wanting to meet the students you cook for?

To me, one of the things that I thought would be great about coming here was to be able to meet a freshman, sophomore, whatever the situation is, and be their chef all the way through the four years. Chefs can make or break having a good day your day. A good breakfast can really help set your day up for success. It’s awesome that a chef can make someone’s day with the food they prepare. The food that you consume has a lot to do with how the rest of the day goes. The food we serve here can help put a smile on a student’s face by starting off the day with a good meal. I think that’s one of the reasons I really tried to make this [opportunity] happen.

What changes do you want/plan to make here moving forward?

The more students I meet, the more interaction I have, the easier it will be to make changes. Figuring out what students want and don’t want, will help me come up with new items. Once I see a big part of the rotation as far as the food goes, it’ll help me to write new menus based on what I’ve seen. There’s great open communication between the students and the chefs. I’ve really been just getting the lay of the land, but I want to keep things fresh and exciting in the future.

Do you have a favorite cuisine or style that you like to prepare?

I had a restaurant for ten years that was called Socca and it was French-Italian, but I still love cooking with Asian influences. As far as any style of cooking goes, I don’t think there’s any one style that i like or dislike more than others. It’s fun to do different kinds of cuisines that you don’t do every day and read about something for a minute or two and then attempt to go at it, whether it be some kind of flat bread and some crazy cooking technique that we don’t cook over here.

I saw that you were catering for Phish, Imagine Dragons, Prince and lots of others [a few years back] and it seems like cooking has taken you all over the world. What was that like?

I always say that even those people have to eat. I always loved live music and cooking and I figured out how to put the two together and make it work for me. I’ve cheffed at Austin City Limits, cheffed the Farm Aid [concert] — it’s fun being able to cook for those people. When you’re on the road it’s kind of like the situation at the school: You’re cooking for the same 250 people every day that are on tour with you. You really get that bond between you and the artist or you and the crew. Every day you get feedback and every day you try to make them happy and make their day better.

Are there any memories you could share with me about your travels and cooking? What places were the most memorable?

I got to experience a four week cooking trip in Malaysia where I was an assistant to Leanne Wong who was a Top Chef Season 1 contestant. Then Art Smith, Oprah’s chef, had me on the “Best Thing I Ever Ate” on the Food network for the pizzettes that we served at Socca. Then in 2009 he took me to Oprah’s school in Johannesburg, South Africa and I got to serve Thanksgiving dinner with a South African twist to the first group of girls to go through their school. If that wasn’t cool enough, we had to leave early to go have dinner with Nelson Mandela’s daughter and her daughter. That was an amazing trip.

The quotes in this article were edited for brevity and clarity.