Neatly arranged stainless steel tables reflected the bright glare of the industrial white lights and there’s a pot of tomato sauce simmering on the stove. On the tables, uniformly chopped vegetables lay drizzled with olive oil and salt, ready to be baked in the preheated oven. It’s a setup that any kitchen would be lucky to have.
It’s the pristine kitchen of Alpha Tau Omega (ATO) Fraternity Chef Rebecca Calhoun, who is in the middle of seasoning and stirring a pot of tomato sauce to prepare for dinner later that night.
“Usually, I come in about an hour and a half or so before lunch,” Calhoun told the Wheel, talking as she continues to cook. “I have an assistant, [so] we usually just get food prepped and leave things out for the boys [to eat]. In the morning, we keep out fresh fruit — just something to keep them going till lunch.”
Calhoun, who has cooked for the past 15 years, has worked for ATO for the past year. The beloved fraternity chef first ventured into the world of cooking as a waitress at Waffle House, where she worked at the age of 19. She is now contracted through Gill Grilling, a catering company based in Maryland that specializes in cooking for fraternities and sororities across the United States. Prior to this position, Calhoun worked for Southern Foodservice Management as a Head Chef for a cafe in Johns Creek, after several years of cooking for delis across Georgia.
This is Calhoun’s first time cooking for a fraternity, a far more intimate setting than any of her previous jobs. She has had to adapt her usual work schedule to meet needs of the members of ATO, setting out fruit for breakfast and preparing custom lunches.
While an Emory meal plan might include limited options, ATO’s kitchen boasts options galore. Calhoun said that all lunch items are made-to-order so each person may choose what to eat.
“[Calhoun’s cooking is] legitimately the best food you can get on campus or in [Emory] Village,” ATO President Owen Mattocks (20C) said. “Her chicken quesadillas, I’m telling you — best in the South, [and] I’m from East Tennessee [and have] travelled all the corners of the South.”
Despite the variety of menu items and the roughly 60 fraternity brothers on the ATO meal plan for the year, Calhoun manages to remember each individual person’s usual order, according to ATO member Craig McHugh (20C).
“I don’t know how … [Calhoun] remembers everybody’s usual [preferences],” McHugh said. “We write down on a sheet what we want, and everybody puts ‘the usual.’ My [order] is a chicken wrap, [but] somebody else’s might be a quesadilla. That’s how good her memory is. It’s just brilliant how well she takes care of us.”
Although Calhoun offers a plethora of options for lunch, dinner tends to be one set meal, with slight variations to accommodate dietary restrictions.
While her daily schedule is regimented, Calhoun’s job extends beyond the scope of the average chef. Multiple ATO brothers described her as a maternal figure for the fraternity.
“I love my job because I love the boys that I cook for,” Calhoun said. “I have a couple of kids just go around the house and pick up things like plates and glasses … so I can get them washed, which is always helpful.”
While those kinds of actions might seem like nothing but common courtesy, the members of ATO have expressed their appreciation for Calhoun in more obvious ways.
“About a month ago, I cut my finger right before dinner really badly … I thought I was going to have to go to the emergency room,” Calhoun said. “Luckily, there’s an EMT who [is a member of ATO] and whose room is right next to the kitchen. He bandaged me all up, went to CVS and got a special bandage for my hand, you know, checked on me later after I went home.”
But Calhoun comes to their aid in times of need, too. ATO member Daniel Jacobs (19C) spoke about how on the snow days earlier this semester, Calhoun insisted that she come to the ATO house to cook for the boys. When she realized that would not be possible due to the severe weather, she arranged for someone to unlock the door to the kitchen.
“She had already prepared meals for this occasion [because] she knew that bad weather was coming,” Jacobs said.
With the level of care Calhoun puts into her job, it is no surprise that brothers like McHugh refer to Calhoun as their “angel.” As both Jacobs and Mattocks said, Calhoun is just as much a part of the fraternity as anyone else.
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Aditya Prakash (20C) is from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, pursuing a double major in neuroscience and behavioral biology and philosophy. He enjoys playing 16-bit indie games and arguing for his pronunciation of the word schedule. He half-jokingly aims to one day join The Onion or Clickhole, but until then he will continue to serve the Wheel.