by Sarah Sholes
1,000 bagels every day, 10,000 pieces of pastry for the work holiday party, and 30,000 commencement weekend cookies – just some of the figures Joe Frackleton keeps in mind. ‘Executive Pastry Chef, Boston University’ emboss his crisp, white chef coat as he takes a seat at a booth in the BU student union by the entrance of his industrial kitchen. Ice blue eyes pop from a clean shaven face, framed by a scrupulous haircut. Despite the Spring Break lull this week, Frackleton, 51, totes a late afternoon cup of coffee. Pastry, Frackleton explains, is for perfectionists. “There is a need to be more precise [than cooking]. The recipes have to be exact.”
So went the introduction to a profile I wrote for ML681, Food Writing for Print Media, with Sheryl Julian last spring. I left my interview with the pastry chef in awe of the volume of his responsibilities. Little did I realize this would be the first of many encounters. A few weeks later I was offered a chance to come into Frackleton’s kitchen and work with his team as they prepared for commencement. My job: to help make the cookies.
To meet the capacious demands of feeding a university as substantial as Boston University requires even more planning from the Everett native. His days at BU, late compared to most bakers, average a start at 7:00 AM. Daily items like muffins, bagels, cookies, scones and croissants for the bagel shops and on-campus Starbucks must be ready for distribution. Catering meetings review the week’s upcoming events, including anything from VIP dinners at BU President Robert Brown’s house for Trustee members to wedding receptions, often for alumni. The events calendar is quite full. Fall and spring are Frackleton’s busiest seasons, welcoming new students and hosting parent and alumni weekends, then sending off graduates with a warm farewell. As one of the city of Boston’s largest employers, BU has over 10,000 faculty and staff members in total, all of whom are invited to the annual holiday party Frackleton caters.
Now, over five months later, I still work in the BU bakery. My most recent challenge is to assist with the back to school rush. With 4,000 members of the class of 2015 moving onto campus, there has been serious demand for cookies in the first days of September. One batch of cookie dough weighs roughly 100 pounds, and I find myself cranking out cookies by the thousands every day, as we anticipate welcome back events. There are the reliable oatmeal raisin, spicy ginger, triple chocolate, and the always classic chocolate chip. Despite the craze, Frackleton maintains a sense of calm and always keeps his chef coat spotless. I, known only as ‘the cookie girl’ to many Aramark employees passing through the kitchen, continue to learn recipes, techniques and skills from Frackleton, but have yet to master the art of keeping my apron clean.
A great aspect of the Gastronomy program is also sometimes one of the most daunting to me. Unlike MBA students, for example, gastronomes have no distinct path to follow. But not trailing a path means that sometimes you can blaze your own. One interview for a class assignment turned into a job for me. I get to work with a great team of people who offer insight. They allow me to do my favorite thing – make cookies – which I do in abundance.