Chef at home on the Hill
Bobs Dining Hall Chef Becky Sugden has been a fixture on the Hill since fall 2007, with the majority of that time spent at the Joseph Family Spa.
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For Becky Sugden, a chef at Roberts (Bobs) dining hall and the namesake of “Becky’s flatbread” at the Joseph Family Spa, being on the Hill is in her blood. Growing up in Waterville, Sugden’s sister graduated from the College in 1994, her father and grandfather both worked as staff members and her stepfather coached the Nordic ski team.
Despite these family ties, Sugden never thought she would find herself back in central Maine or even working for Colby when she left the state to attend college. “I love my job, and I love living in the area,” Sugden said. “But the road to returning to Waterville was a long and adventurous one.”
After graduating from Waterville High School in 1994, Sugden briefly attended college and military school, but then decided to pursue her childhood affinity for sailing. She began her career as a deckhand on Maine schooners sailing from the Northeast coast to the Bahamas and Jamaica, but stumbled upon a new passion at sea. “I quickly discovered the best profession on a boat is getting to be the cook,” she said. “Of course, they get to have the most fun.”
Sugden was responsible for shopping and budgeting, keeping inventories and preparing three meals a day on the each boat she worked for. “People go on these passenger boats and they’re paying to eat well….On a seven day trip, people gain something like ten pounds,” she said with a laugh. “You learn a lot about a country through its grocery stores.”
After thirteen years at sea, it was during a trip to Hawaii that Sugden discovered that she was pregnant. She completed her final voyage and then returned to Maine, where she gave birth to her son, James. Sugden then worked in restaurants and even at a law firm, but both lacked the environment she was looking for.
“Cooks in restaurants are not the nicest people,” Sugden said with a laugh.
Having grown up in Waterville attending numerous events at the College—including a fondly-remembered Phish concert in 1992—it is easy to understand why Sugden applied for an opening in dining services when the opportunity arose. “I started in Dana as a salad girl in the fall of 2007,” she said, and then applied for the position of chef at the Joseph Family Spa six months later as the College prepared for the unveiling of Cotter Union.
“The opening day of the Spa was on the same day as my son’s first day of kindergarten. It was good though because it kept me distracted from him being gone all day,” Sugden said.
She loved her time at the Spa because of its resemblance to a restaurant-style atmosphere. “I love getting to know people, and getting to know everyone around,” Sugden said in reference to her ability to interact closely with students during her time at the Spa.
Sugden remained at the Spa until recently, when she relocated to Bobs dining hall. The switch to Bobs allowed Sugden to return to working in a team-oriented environment, as well as work alongside her mentor, Executive Chef Wendy Benney.
“Sailing is such a family because you’re a team, and it’s pretty much the same here. Teamwork doesn’t happen right away, you have to develop it; but at Bobs teamwork is already established,” Sugden said. “And having Wendy as a mentor in such a male-driven industry is great; out of 60 production staff members, there are only four women.”
During the past few months at Bobs, Sugden has begun to take over some of Benney’s production duties, which includes a lot of number crunching and organizing. Her time spent managing a kitchen at sea prepared her for the task. “Working in the dining hall involves a lot of guessing—how many people, how many plates at each station, designing menus and ordering,” Sugden said.
Sugden also stressed the quality of the food Sodexo’s produces: “Everything here is done from scratch; the amount of quality for such a large quantity of product is impressive. Sodexo’s standards are by far higher than anyone I’ve ever worked for.”
Working at the College has been a great experience for Sugden because “Colby is at the forefront of Sodexo.” She enjoys testing new recipes and loves posting photos of Sodexo meals to both the Colby Dining Hall Facebook page, as well as her own. “The days of cafeteria lines and slopping food on a plate are gone,” she said, referencing Bobs’ famously square plates and attractively garnished meals.
But when Sugden comes home from a long day in the dining hall, fancy meals are the last thing on her mind. “My son wants to come to Colby so I can cook for him,” she said. “But for me, my favorite meal at home is a bacon, lettuce, cheese and avocado sandwich. I would eat bacon for every meal if I could.”