Eddie Mundy, director of dining services with Flik Independent School Dining at Western Reserve Academy (WRA), has hit upon an outlet for his culinary creativity, a cost-effective solution to long lines at lunch and most importantly, a way to serve students cutting-edge food that’s lots of fun: Chef’s Whim specials.
The appeal of Chef’s Whim specials is the element of surprise. That feeling of you never know what Chef Eddie will do next. One day for lunch, it could be pho-ritos (pho ingredients in a burrito); then the next day might bring Creole shrimp pasta to students at the Ellsworth Dining Hall at WRA, a private boarding school for grades 9-12 in Hudson, Ohio.
Mundy and sous chef Scott Bennett come up with some attention-grabbing ideas for Chef’s Whim, like kung pao pastrami and craveable international hits like Italian chicken cutlets with fresh mozzarella and heirloom tomatoes. The rest of the staff comes up with ideas, too, including the dishwasher who came up with “the ultimate hot dog,” stuffed with American cheese, wrapped in bacon and served with a trio of sauces, plus fire-roasted poblano poppers.
The wild ride of Chef’s Whim—or just the Whim for short—began as a solution to long lines at lunch.
“It was something we devised as a way to help the flow of lunch, help on cost and serve incredible food,” Mundy says. “The lunch periods have gotten shorter, so we wanted to be able to get everyone in and out as quickly as possible…it has definitely helped with the lines at lunch.
“Creating the Whim, we were able to further delineate lines and give more options,” all in one quick stop for those adventurous eaters getting in line for the Whim, since it’s a complete plated dish and always something that can be produced very quickly by the team.
Chef’s Whim currently happens four days a week, with Mundy taking charge of two days and Bennett taking the other two. They find inspiration for the dishes by starting with a couple of categories like international and epic meal time.
“For international, we take a lot of pride in procuring the correct ingredients, using proper technique and really respecting the dish’s background,” he says. “Epic meal time is borrowed from the famous YouTube video series and we just do crazy things.”
How crazy are we talking? Mundy rattles off a list that could be a shopping list or a scatterbrained chef’s dream journal (ramen fried chicken, outrageous burritos…kung pao pastrami), yet the dishes come off as trendy, fun, must-have lunches for the students.
As for that kung pao pastrami, “Scott took the old school hot pastrami but made a beer cheese, a housemade spicy mustard and a vinegar slaw.”
Other dishes are deconstructed versions of popular food trends: “Because of how hot the trend of bowls is, I’ll turn different things into bowls,” Mundy says, “like the shawarma bowl or deconstructed sushi dynamite rolls in a bowl or the bacon and egg ramen bowl.”
And because of the dining teams existing commitment to using as much local Ohio bounty as possible—from local urban gardens to local humanely raised beef and chicken—another category of Chef’s Whim inspiration is the locavore movement.
“We use lots of local products, so at least once a season, I’ll do an all-local dish,” Mundy says. Last spring, an “All Ohio Everything” plate included pan-seared Lake Erie walleye, turnip puree and wild ramp pistou with pickled rhubarb and crispy parsnips.
Mundy relishes Chef’s Whim, sharing to WRA Dining’s Instagram account, and says it’s helped his creative juices get flowing again.
“As someone who has only ever cooked for my main jobs, with this position as director of dining services, it’s the only job where cooking isn’t inherently in it,” he says. “So it’s become a great creative outlet for me. Therapeutic too!”