Avery serves specialties at La Verne

"Never shake the cook's hand," said Lee Avery, jokingly, while preparing his soul food specialties for Tuesday's dinner. Avery says that although the hours are bad and the pay isn't the greatest, he likes his job as head cook in Davenport Dining Hall because he loves to cook. Avery hopes to open up a own soul food restaurant in the future. / photo by Isela Peña
“Never shake the cook’s hand,” said Lee Avery, jokingly, while preparing his soul food specialties for Tuesday’s dinner. Avery says that although the hours are bad and the pay isn’t the greatest, he likes his job as head cook in Davenport Dining Hall because he loves to cook. Avery hopes to open up a own soul food restaurant in the future. / photo by Isela Peña

by Simon W. Bouie
Arts & Entertainment Editor

Be it rain, sleet, snow or hail, the show must go on. The grind of battle is experienced daily on our campus.

It is a battle that is waged seven days a week. The prize for victory, contentment. The price for defeat, masses of mal-nourished cranky collegiates. The weapon of choice-Gun? Missile? Stealth Bomber? How about a knife and cooking fork?

Davenport Dining Hall wages a daily grind to prepare food for students and staff alike. The work of the dining hall’s cooks is often criticized and unappreciated. The job of the Davenport cook seems to be one that is not understood by the beneficiaries of their work, it does not seem a stretch to call their work thankless.

As in all of life there is a story behind the story. The spring that winds the watch; the director behind the star; the first lady behind the president; and of course, the cook behind the food.

Lee Avery has been cooking at the University of La Verne for about seven years. The 54-year-old worked at Griswolds in Claremont part time in 1970. His work was so well received that he was sent to culinary school.

For the next 10 years, he was the head chef at a restaurant in Redlands. Over the years, Avery has had three restaurants of his own, the most recent was in 1993. “I owned a place in Diamond Bar called the Red Pepper,” said Avery. The establishment was of combination of surf, turf and soul food.

Although Avery has worked at La Verne for most of this decade, this is his part-time job. “I work full time at the Riverside School for the Deaf. I used to work out at Chino prison, but it got hard dealing with the inmates,” said Avery.

Cooking for large quantities of people is not difficult, but it can sometimes be a job that involves guessing work.

“We figure that we must cook for about 200 people each night, and then, we add 20 percent to that total, this gives us a guide as to how much we should prepare. It gets kind of hard at times because students can eat as much as they want. We always hope that we have made enough,” said Avery.

The menu for the day’s meals is decided by Armen Ananian, director of campus food services at Davenport, or one of his assistants. Avery does tell of a couple of can’t miss hits every time they are cooked, “Mashed potatoes and gravy. Students love it no matter who cooks it. Just keep it coming. They also love pasta as well. They can’t get enough of those two.”

Avery has had the benefit of maintaining a good relationship with his clientele and with his co-workers.

“They give me respect. In seven years, no one has ever said a bad word to me. I feel appreciated by Armen and my co-workers as well as some students who have worked in the kitchen. I feel good because I do the best job that I can possibly do,” he said.

Avery gets great pleasure from his work, “I love what I do. I drove big rigs for four years, but I came back because I love cooking. You don’t cook unless you love it. The hours suck and the pay is bad, but I love cooking.” Although he likes his work, it is work.

“I don’t cook at home. I either eat here or I go out to eat,” he said.

On what may be his dream job, he also said he has already had a taste of it. “When I had my own place in Diamond Bar I loved every minute of it. Eventually I will have it again.”

Avery is described by Ananian as, “Great, the quality of his work is good and he is very reliable as well as helpful to the staff.”

If Davenport were the Dodgers, Avery would be the equivalent of first baseman Eric Karros, consistent and always quietly going about the business of doing his job while gathering the respect of his peers along the way.

John Anthony would be to Davenport what new center fielder Devon White is to the Los Angeles baseball team, the seasoned veteran, whose reputation precedes him as one who does good work and is reliable.

John Anthony has only been at La Verne for the past four weeks, however, he has been in the cooking game for over 30 years.

“I started cooking in the Army and have been with Aramark for the last 28 years,” said Anthony.

Prior to working at La Verne, Anthony cooked at Chapman University.

He still cooks on weekends at “Camp Ronald McDonald,” which is a camp for cancer victims and their families.

Though he has only been at La Verne for a short time, Anthony does like it here, “I knew several of the staff before I came here, and the students are all polite.”

Anthony sums himself up best, “I get a lot out of my work and whenever I see people eat the food and it tastes good, it feels nice. After you have done what I have done for so long you have to like it in order to stick with it.”

Ananian said, “He has only been here for a short time, but I have known him for the last 24 years. He is great.”

Lee Avery and John Anthony, two seasoned vets that wage war every day to insure a well fed America of tomorrow. In the battle of the bulge, these two are legendary.

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Journalism operations manager at the University of La Verne. Production manager and business manager of the Campus Times.

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