At the heart of our campus, where academic rigor meets balanced diets, lies a neo-gothic building with a tower reaching high toward the sky, acting as a beacon for hungry students. Peirce Dining Hall has been a staple at Kenyon College since its opening in 1929. Though certain elements have changed, such as the unveiling of “New Side” to accommodate larger crowds, students’ incessant need for desserts remains the same. Since the dawn of time, desserts have been a staple of meals across the globe. At Peirce, they are just as sacred.
The dessert table’s consistent high quality is due to a willingness to innovate behind the scenes. As Kenyon’s first pastry chef, Beth Fonner brings a lot to the table, both literally and figuratively. When asked about the inspiration behind her desserts, Fonner (known to those around Peirce as ‘Chef Beth’) offered a brief lesson in culinary science: “People eat with their eyes.” She focuses on color, texture and contrast to display the day’s menu. The result is a diverse repertoire of desserts with a unique array of flavor profiles that make the station enticing to students. Fonner maintains that variation is crucial because “people get bored easily when they have the same thing over and over.”
Until Fonner became the head pastry chef seven years ago, Peirce only served two types of dessert all day, which were baked and served in the same pan. To break the monotony, she focused on improving the way desserts were presented and distributed. This meant expanding the selection to include a wider range of bars, cookies and pastries. Students loved having more options to choose from, and increased demand led Fonner to rewrite the menu for good.
While there is definitely a logistical component to the desserts, the baking process is foremost a labor of love. Fonner’s creativity and experience shine through every step in the food production process. “I might have only 50 ingredients, but I can make about 150 different things,” she said. Her secret is cross-utilizing her inventory. In Fonner’s kitchen, the same base can be used to turn a Birthday Bar into an Oreo Cheesecake Bar. Her inventiveness and extensive knowledge of Peirce’s inventory couple to form the heart of Kenyon’s iconic dessert rotation.
Baking dessert for a thousand-plus students is a tall order. On a typical day, the kitchen produces an average of 900 cookies. For the various dessert bars offered at each meal, the baking team uses a workaround by baking three to four sheets of every bar — around seven to eight hundred portions. Around fifteen hundred pieces of dessert go out each day, meaning one week amounts to more than ten thousand servings.
With so many desserts, it’s natural to worry about what happens to excess servings. In order to prevent food waste, Fonner and the bakery team put the uneaten sweets into a freezer, where they are saved for a day when desserts are running low.
When asked what her personal favorite Peirce dessert was, Fonner replied: “I actually don’t eat a lot of desserts, ironically, but my favorite ‘addiction bar’ is the ooey gooey bar.” Among students, lemon bars, molasses cookies and lemon cup parfaits are crowd favorites.
But no matter which sweet treat students choose to end their meal with, the dedication of the Peirce staff is evident in every bite.