What’s Cooking at the Hoch? Behind the scenes: who makes the Hoch go ‘round

Article by Saya Kim-Suzuki and Avani Anne. Photo from Harvey Mudd College.

“Stay positive, test negative!”

You may have heard Miguel Ruvalcaba, the General Manager of HMC Dining Services, say this to unsuspecting diners at the Hoch. For the past twelve years, Miguel (a self-proclaimed foodie) has been dedicated to feeding the Harvey Mudd community, centering his work on satisfying Mudd students.


So how does the menu work at the Hoch? The meals are on a five-week cycle, with recipes being constantly updated to match the preferences of students, who are represented by food committee members that meet with Miguel every Tuesday. Have you ever requested a new spice, dish, or dessert, and seen it show up the next month (like the hot cheeto crumbs or vegan chocolate chip cookies…)? Miguel and his team pay close attention to the student feedback they receive through their weekly Thursday lunch office hours, as well as what food students tend to favor. Then, they update menus and portioning accordingly.

According to Kris Chang, a freshman on the food committee, Miguel works to identify issues like exactly when and where chicken becomes too dry or soup too salty. The goal is to satisfy as many students as possible, given our varying preferences (apparently, we have very opposing views on how we like our broccoli cooked). This includes meat-lovers, vegetarians, and people with other dietary restrictions.


The Hoch staff work with multiple local and national vendors to ensure that Mudders get high-quality food. Predicting how much inventory to order can be a challenge — the Hoch needs to have enough food for everyone, while ensuring that there won’t be too much food wasted. They also need to foresee which stations will be most popular each night — for example, will Mudders favor Exhibition’s pasta bar or the Grill’s Korean BBQ tacos? Will 300 portions in each of the popular stations be enough for all 800 students at Mudd? Finding that balance is not an easy task.


The Hoch also needs to work within constraints such as its budget (even if we all want more berries in our fruit salad), staffing shortages, and COVID-19 safety precautions. Ever since the pandemic began, supply chains have been disrupted, often causing the Hoch staff to have to modify their menus last-minute. Sometimes, the Hoch is short up to 50 items, a significant increase from pre-pandemic levels, where they would be short only four to five items. At the start of the semester, around 40% of the staff positions were unoccupied. The Hoch had to pivot and maintain self-serve and one-employee stations, especially when Hoch staff had to stay home to quarantine.

However, in the typical Miguel fashion, there was a silver lining to all this – the pandemic meant that the Hoch served Mudd students exclusively for a time (Fall 2021 and part of Spring 2022), making them the absolute priority. Miguel is also optimistic for what’s to come – new cooks and staff are starting at the Hoch, Jay’s Place, and the Café. Let’s be sure to make them feel welcome!


Over the past ten years, the Hoch has seen an upgrade. The Hoch staff have changed their equipment to QuickConnect, which allows each piece of equipment to be easily plugged and unplugged, maximizing the different kinds of foods that can be offered at each station. Additionally, the Hoch installed the first allergy- free station at the 5Cs and added Creations and the Bakery.


Over the years, Miguel has been puzzled by the fact that Mudders consistently lean toward assembling their own dishes. We all love our made-to-order pho, mac and cheese, and risotto. One day, a student suggested that Mudders love custom-making their meals because we’re engineers and scientists at heart – we love creating and building! And we’re willing to wait 45 minutes for it.


Miguel and his staff also go the extra mile during the holidays to make Mudders feel at home. Staff begin prepping a week in advance to cook food for festive meals like Hochsgiving and Hochsmas. Every year, there are traditional holiday dishes such as turkey or mac and cheese, along with special treats such as a chocolate fountain and baked brie.


Miguel has worked on numerous college campuses, but proclaims “Harvey Mudd students are the best!” He knows that Mudders have a lot on their plate and wants to ensure that students don’t have to stress about food on top of everything else. From cooking us individual personalized entreés to staying late for Noisy Minutes, it’s obvious that Miguel and his incredible team work tirelessly to bring us the best dining experience possible. Thank you, Miguel, and the entire Hoch team, for your dedication to the Mudd community!

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