The beloved Lobster Bake has opened the academic year since the 1960s, with students rushing to the Farley Fields in their finest outfits year after year. When cracking a lobster claw and catching up with friends who you have not seen all summer, you rarely stop to think about the preparation and planning that went into putting that lobster on your plate. Yet, behind the scenes, Bowdoin Dining works tirelessly for months to facilitate this quintessential Bowdoin tradition.
“There’s a lot of moving parts that go into coordinating today’s lunch or tomorrow’s dinner, but pulling off an event for 2000 or more people that’s located halfway across campus—that doesn’t have a kitchen or a dining room—presents a tremendous amount of logistics,” Executive Director of Dining Ryan Miller said.
With numerous formal dinners taking place for different groups throughout Orientation week, Dining prepares some of its most difficult meals while setting up for Lobster Bake and still maintaining normal dining operations in Moulton and Thorne.
“On the dining side, we have cooks that are cooking in a vastly different way and doing vastly different tasks than they [typically] do every day. We have a million and one things that are happening behind the scenes run by people that don’t get to sit here and interview with you. But if they weren’t doing their jobs, there wouldn’t be a lobster day,” Miller said.
Associate Director of Dining Adeena Fisher oversees all catering and retail operations and explained that Lobster Bake symbolizes the connection that students foster, not only with the College, but also with Maine throughout their time at Bowdoin.
“We have always done an opening lobster bake with the premise being that one of your first meals here is a Maine lobster bake, and one of your last meals here at Commencement is a lobster bake that sort of bookends your time at Bowdoin,” Fisher said.
On-site preparation for the event began on Sunday with chairs and tables arriving to be set up by the grounds crew the next day. By Monday night, the layout was complete for buffet lines and chafing dishes to come in bright and early on Tuesday morning.
“By 7 a.m., we’re all in there setting the tables. Trevor, our head chef at Thorne, comes over around 10 a.m., and he’s setting up the bake plates for the lobster and corn. Next, some of the cooks come over and get the grill set up,” Fisher said.
Around 3 p.m., truckloads of food for the buffet were piled into serving stations.
“They start bringing all the food over—all the salads, potato salads, everything that’s needed for the buffet. They fire up the bake plates around 3 p.m. to feed the staff at 4 p.m. and immediately fire up the next round for 5 p.m. And then it’s just fast and furious,” Fisher said.
In just over an hour and a half, Dining served over 1,400 lobsters to eager students.
The last trip of the day brought the grills back to the warehouse, and by 8:30 p.m., the fieldhouse and surrounding fields were completely cleared.
However, the construction at the Farley Fields added additional challenges to the process this year. While Dining usually begins planning for Lobster Bake in early summer to secure lobsters and compostable serving materials from vendors, talks among dining operations staff began in late February this year to accommodate for a new protocol. This included moving the majority of the dining and serving tables inside Farley Fieldhouse.
“We had to coordinate with athletics this year because the field is usually in use for teams practicing, but now that they can’t practice out in the fields, [they] are using the fieldhouse a lot more,” Fisher said.
In previous years, the lobsters were brought to a warehouse on Whittier Street to be steamed en masse on giant bake plates over burning wood. Facilities would then use pickup trucks with trailers to take entire plates off the fire and transport them through a path in the woods behind Farley before unloading them onto chafing dishes for serving.
“When it was at the warehouse, it was very easy to take the lobsters out of the cooler, put them in the baking trays, fire them up, and you’re good to go. So here when it’s an 85 degree day, getting out of the warehouse, on the truck, around an additional street and still here in a timely manner is an added layer of logistics,” Fisher said.
Sourcing and CBORD Manager Jesse Jones adds that this additional layer changed how they approached their cook times and serving.
“We had to spread our timeline out because we probably added about 10 minutes to every single trip that we had to do,” Jones said.
Despite the added challenges, Miller, along with Jones and Fisher, expressed great satisfaction with this year’s event.
“That was my first Lobster Bake, and I don’t think there’s a single thing that didn’t go off well, so we’re very pleased from our end, and we hope students perceive the same thing,” Miller said.