I knew dining on campuses today was generally a much better experience than when I was a student, but I had no idea fraternity house dining could be virtually gourmet.
In early January 2009, the philosophy of dining began to change for the better at Sigma Chapter when Wallace Crosby was hired as the temporary house director.
With a hospitality background that began in a Boy Scout Camp kitchen in 1973 and continued through his career with Marriott Hotels and Marriott Management Services, Crosby is not new to food and dining. As he worked his way through Marriott’s management training program, he learned about every job within a hotel and ultimately landed in the catering department.
“Being a sales manager is where my knowledge of food blossomed,” explains Crosby. “I learned all about food costs and balancing a menu, including color, shape and texture.” The most important part, Crosby says, is eating with all of your senses.
“One night when I was building a plate, one of the guys asked me why I go to so much trouble,” Crosby recalls. “My answer was simple: You eat with all of your senses. If a plate looks good and smells good, then it’s most likely going to taste good.”
A New Approach at Sigma
“I don’t remember at what point the light actually came on and I figured out that managing this house would be just like managing a small hotel,” says Crosby.
Hired as the temporary house director in January 2009, Crosby remembers his early days at the Sigma Chapter. He wasn’t going to make changes to the food service; he was only going to be there for a few months. Later that spring semester, however, Crosby realized it was time for a change.
“I had been in the kitchen making macaroni and cheese,” Crosby recalls. “I got what I wanted out of the pan and offered the rest to whoever was there. One of the guys told me, ‘This macaroni is better than my grandmother’s.’”
Crosby was honored by the compliment. “Not only be compared to, but better than someone’s grandmother’s cooking. It told me that I was not the only one who didn’t like cook’s food. That is when I decided that if I was to going to remain things had to change.”
The dining experience at the Sigma Chapter has come a long way since that first semester. Many cooks and assistants have come and gone, but Crosby has continued to raise the bar. He’s also continued to hone his own culinary skills.
Crosby remembers meeting alumnus Jim Quinn, Sigma (South Carolina), early in his tenure at 4 Fraternity Circle. It was Quinn who taught many members of the Sigma Chapter, including Crosby, about the southern art of barbecue.
“Jim was a great help to me with the chapter, and we often talked about how to improve the kitchen,” says Crosby.
Over the past seven years, the Sigma Chapter has grown from 66 men to 145. A larger chapter also requires a larger dining operation. Pi Kappa Phi Properties renovated the kitchen and the service area in the house about three years ago to accommodate the growth.
“We added more refrigeration, a new gas chargrill, and best of all, we cut a hole in the wall and built a new service line into the kitchen,” Crosby recalls. “Jim and I always agreed that we needed a better service area.”
And as the chapter grew, so too did the culinary staff in Columbia.
Sam Young joined #TeamWallace, as the Pi Kapp College for Emerging Leaders participants affectionately refer to it each summer, a few years ago. Young’s tenure as the head cook at the Sigma Chapter was transformational.
“That is when our dining program started to take off,” says Crosby, who speaks fondly of his former colleague.
Young also hired Tavaras “T” Mattison to assist with the dining operation part-time.
Last spring, Young decided to finish his college degree, and Mattison took the helm of the Sigma Chapter kitchen operations.
“I don’t know where Sam found T, but he is the best thing to ever happen to Sigma’s kitchen,” beams Crosby. “Sam was really good, but T is even better!”
A graduate of Le Cordon Blue College of Culinary Arts in Atlanta, Mattison has brought a new energy to the chapter’s dining operations.
“He started soaking up everything he could about his new job,” Crosby remembers. “T has vast experience in fine dining and has gotten really excited about running the kitchen. This is how far we have come — from the barely edible to casual to now somewhere around casual fine dining quality food.”
As a sign of the chapter’s deep appreciation for Mattison, he was alumni initiated in fall 2015. “I was very happy to be a part of his Ritual of Initiation,” says Crosby.
Crosby is never satisfied with the status quo; he believes there’s always room for improvement. This year, it was the addition of a cooked-to-order breakfast for the chapter’s live-in members. Crosby is also working to offer entrée choices at dinner. His next dream: Cooked-to-order lunch with a limited rotating menu.
Additionally, Crosby would like to complete the Carolina Culinary Institutes program one day and get his Certified Executive Chef designation.
For now, I am grateful that I had the opportunity to travel down the road to Columbia and finally sample the amazing cuisine I follow on Facebook. Pi Kappa Phi is thankful to have Wallace, T and their team putting out some of the best food — food that wows all of your senses — for the men of the Sigma Chapter and for our Pi Kapp College for Emerging Leaders participants and faculty each summer.