Unsung Hero: Earnest Arroyo

Melissa NunezOpinions and Features Editor 

In the bustling cafeteria at Conn Hall, hungry students line up between their classes to fuel up for the day—behind the counter is Executive Chef, Earnest Arroyo, who oversees food service operations.

Arroyo began working at Southern in November 2016. Since then, he has established gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian stations at Conn Hall. He added he has also worked with the chefs and bakers, helping them advance their skills.

Given the significant population of gluten free, vegetation and vegan students at Wesleyan University, Arroyo said his experience as their production manager of eight years helped shape some of the changes seen at Southern.

Before working at Wesleyan, Arroyo said he was not familiar with vegetarian or vegan cooking, but after some time he began to develop his skills.

“Before Wesleyan, I had no clue of the vegan or vegetarian culture, and it was up and coming and I worked at it,” said Arroyo. “I learned where to procure certain products, then I started working with some of the vegan and vegetarian chefs, learning different methods and different presentations and sort of developed my own style on how to present it and how to produce it.”

Previously, Arroyo worked at Trinity College for about a year and Central Connecticut State University for five years. While he has also worked in food service at other places such as the Marriot and Yale New Haven Hospital, to him, nothing compares to higher education.  

“If you ask me which one I like the best, it is the one I have been with all these years, higher ed,” said Arroyo. “It’s the schedule, it’s the atmosphere, it’s working with students, working with programs, working with celebrations.”

Celebrations such as the 2017 “Farm-to-Chef Week,” from the Connecticut Department of Agriculture, said Arroyo. Throughout the week starting September 17, Conn Hall will feature produce from local, New England farms, he said.

Arroyo added he is also helping with “Hispanic Heritage Month,” with assistant director for Transfer Students in Academic and Career Advising, Anna Rivera-Alfaro, which features various events spanning from September 15 through October 15, such as the “a Taste of Latin America” celebration on Tuesday, October 3 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in Conn Hall.

Sporting a white chefs jacket, Arroyo said he stands out from the rest, so students will often approach him with their thoughts or suggestions.

“I’m willing to listen to anyone and everyone who comes my way, either for advice or looking to give me suggestions and I’m willing to maybe put out some of these meals or suggestions, within reason,” said Arroyo. “I can’t serve filet mignon on the line, but if they want to see a cheddar meatloaf or maybe a recipe that their mom or grandma used to make, absolutely, bring it on.”

Speaking from his extensive experience in food service, Arroyo said the relationship between himself and the consumer is key to a solid kitchen and makes it a point to be available to those willing to approach him.

“In this business, I have been doing this for over 25 years, from the very beginning I always made it a point to give people a couple minutes of your time,” said Arroyo. “No matter how busy you are, to listen to issues, suggestions and just to hear what people are saying and what they are looking for. It makes a world of a difference, not just to them, but to the overall operation because you start producing things that people are looking for and it’s a win, win situation. We’re allies.”

Photo Credit: Melissa Nunez

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