B.U. Bridge is published by the Boston University Office of University Relations.
By Hope Green
When it comes to feeding a crowd, Kimberly Straubing knows its a lot more than loaves and fishes.
Straubing, who recently became special events manager at BU Dining Services, spent the past decade supervising waitstaffs at swank Boston hotels. In 10 years she worked her way up from bartender to headwaiter, catering to the famous (Susan Sarandon, Alan Alda, and Mick Jagger, to name a few), the fancy, and the just plain finicky.
Eventually Straubing was named maître d at the Four Seasons five-star eatery, Aujourdhui. Most of her customers were happy. But there were exceptions.
One woman was really nasty to me, she recalls. She had all these black speckles in her crème brulée and she said, This is uncalled for, this is the Four Seasons!
Straubing gently explained the misunderstanding: the grains in the custard dessert were particles of ground vanilla bean. The diner looked sheepish. But Straubing says she could sympathize.
Im a real pain to go out to eat with, she says. I would never raise a stink, but as soon as the server walks away I spend the whole meal complaining: Look at this silverware! Do they even polish? Or, Weve been waiting 10 minutes. Whats going on? And my friends say, Kim, stop! They hate it. Im very particular.
Straubing developed her culinary sense as a child, in upstate New York.
My mom was a great cook, she says. She had a stroke at an early age, so when my sister went off to college I helped my dad out with meals for a couple of months. I had no clue what I was doing, but it was kind of fun to experiment.
She learned about wine from her father, who operated a vineyard in the Finger Lakes region in his spare time. His Riesling took first prize at an annual American Wine Society conference.
As an undergraduate at Northeastern, however, Straubing did not envision a career of putting bread on other peoples tables. She double majored in psychology and business, and for extra pocket money she tended bar at the Marriott Copley Place.
Working there was something I kind of settled into, she says. It was comfortable for me, but I was also ambitious, so they let me try a lot of different things.
Soon Straubing was promoted to run training programs, and contrary to plan she found her calling as a manager of hotel restaurants first at the Marriott, then the Westin, and finally at the Four Seasons, where for the past year she directed the dining room staff at Aujourdhui.
She liked being maître d, though patrons were not used to seeing a woman in that role.
I used to joke with my assistant a man that I would take all the compliments and he could take the complaints, she says. People had no idea I was the manager. Every hotel has a planning committee made up of about nine division heads, and I was one of them, but there are so few women on those committees. It just shows you, we still have a long way to go.
One of her happiest moments was when the restaurant advanced from third to first place in the annual Zagat Survey, which ranks eateries in major cities by conducting customer polls. I was very proud of my staff, she says.
But having learned all she could in hotel-based food service, Straubing aspired to work with a slightly freer hand. In her newly created position at BU, she will be in charge of all special events at the home of President Jon Westling and have a role in most trustee and VIP functions on campus.
Guests may take for granted that the flowers are in good taste, or the champagne is cold, or the soup is hot. Few realize what goes on behind the scenes. Straubings duties range from hiring a multitude of waiters to planning menus and ordering supplies, as well as running the event itself.
As a manager, youre not actually cooking, but youre directing so the food can get on the table at the right time, she says. So it may look like the waiters are just setting things down and picking them up, but its a performance and youre the director with your actors. Youre telling them, Now get the coffee cups. Did you ask if they want more wine? Im literally telling them what to do every step of the way.
Although Straubing thinks she might pursue an MBA in the future, the thrill of choreographing an elegant meal has never worn off.
Sometimes I think I should really make more of an impact in the world, she says, but I love working with the public, and I love putting together a nice dinner for people, so I think Ill just stick with food. Thats what I know best.