Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Cafeteria Food at a Nuclear Physics Lab

Most of you who have read this blog for awhile or who have checked out my profile know that my "day job" is working in the Director's Office at Jefferson Lab, a nuclear physics research lab, here in Newport News, Virginia. There is always something fascinating going on at the Lab whether it is the forefront research being conducted by our users, or technology being utilized for medical imaging, or the Upgrade of our accelerator that will help us address what the New York Times called "one of the 10 questions to ponder for the millennium". At a facility with a population of nearly 1000 from 35 states and 27 countries even the hallway conversation is interesting.

Like tech giants Google and Microsoft, we are lucky at JLab to have an onsite cafeteria. While we have to pay for our meals, our Quark Cafe is staffed by a CIA-trained chef Chris Thornhill, and run by the Compass Group, a multinational food service company that runs cafeterias at countless universities, companies and numerous restaurants as well. How can you meet the diverse dietary needs and international tastes of Jefferson Lab's staff, users, and visitors? Chef Chris serves up everything from Southern favorites as sausage gravy and biscuits to handmade sushi rolls to order to meet the needs of his clientele. The Quark Cafe's most used piece of equipment? The espresso machine which is a favorite with our scientists no matter where they are from. The Quark Cafe offers a salad and deli bar every day, two soup choices, and entrees that include cafeteria standards such as meat loaf or chicken divan as well as more exotic falafel and stuffed eggplant.

Every Thursday, besides our regular menu choices, staff and users are invited to the Chef's Table, a special entree made to order by Chef Chris at a special cooking station set up where he can be observed working his culinary magic. Chef's Table entrees always attract a crowd- Chris has featured mussels and clams in wine sauce, salad with beef tenderloin and blue cheese (pictured left, courtesy of JLab photographer Greg Adams), a seafood plate that included crab cake, salmon fillet and shrimp in a light cream sauce, and my personal favorite , made-to-order sushi rolls. Chef's Table gives us the chance to get a restaurant quality meal at about half the price, watch a chef in action and enjoy Chris' easy banter without even leaving the site.

Our cafeteria is more than just a quick place to grab a bite, the staff there is like family to those 15 minutes or 15 hours away from home. We know their names (Gaye, Chris, Dan, Sandra and Dianne) and they know ours. They know who is watching their carbs, who likes liver, and what "the usual" is for their regular customers. It is that atmosphere that is as important to those who dine at the Quark Cafe as the food itself.

The Quark Cafe is so much a part of life at Jefferson Lab, it is hard to imagine what it would be like not to have such a great place to get a good breakfast or lunch right on site. What do you do for lunch? Brown bag it? Go out? Eat at your desk? Or do you have your own cafeteria that you frequent. I invited you to lunch at JLab, now it's your turn to take us along for your lunch break!

Check out My article on the Quark Cafe and get Chef Chris' recipe for Asian Beef Stir Fry at


JennDZ - The Leftover Queen said...

Sounds like a really nice cafeteria! I love the name too - really cute for a physics lab!

ntsc said...

We have a corporate cafeteria run by Resturant Associates, who also run The Four Seasons in New York City.

However I try and not use it more than once a week each for breakfast and lunch and brown bag it the rest of the time.

When I bring lunch I eat at my desk and if I have a phone conference durning lunch I may well eat the cafeteria food at my desk as well.

Deborah Dowd said...

Jenndz- The cafeteria was named via an employee contast!

NTSC- Wow, that sounds like a really impressive cafeteria! It probably wouldn't be good for your wallet or budget to eat every meal there!