Wyatt Putt, executive chef of dining services, carves into a 300-pound block of ice.
On the loading dock behind Ben Franklin Dining Hall, an electric chainsaw rests beside the main kitchen door. A man emerges from the kitchen, rolling a hand truck carrying a massive block of ice into the unseasonably mild January air.
It is time for Wyatt Putt to go to work.
Putt, executive chef of Franklin & Marshall's dining services, fires up the chainsaw and begins slicing into the 300-pound slab of solid ice. After several hours, he will have created his latest masterpiece of detailed ice sculpting.
Creativity is Putt's calling card, whether he holds a chainsaw, sauté pan or menu lineup. The chef—who is employed by Sodexo, the College's food service provider—supplies students with a diverse menu characterized by a mix of local products and international cuisine.
"We do a lot to break up the monotony," Putt says in his kitchen office. "Over the last three years, there's been a big move from the purchased product to scratch cooking... Now, almost all of the cooking takes place in front of the students. We have really good people who take pride in the food they're making."
Putt grew up in rural Lancaster County, just outside of New Holland. He moved to Philadelphia at age 21, where he sharpened his skills during an internship with an Indian master chef and learned the art of sushi from a Japanese master chef. He became executive chef at Hahnemann University Hospital, and also worked at the National Constitution Center.
A fan of authentic food from China, Vietnam and other parts of Southeast Asia, Putt says that food from different corners of the world often has much in common, with its own spin. He tries to bring the diversity of world cuisine to F&M students, with special ethnic nights scattered throughout the semester. The key, he says, is authenticity.
"I try to keep everything true to its original quality," says Putt, who is the executive district chef for 10 Sodexo properties. "Every country has its own character, and I see no reason to mess with that."
Putt also tries to employ a personal approach to his cooking, creating a restaurant experience for students.
"Whenever I've gone to Applebee's or Friday's I've never come out and said, 'wow,'" says Putt, who previously served as a banquet chef at F&M. "I like those hole-in-the-wall places, where the grandmother is making food in the back, a family environment. Many Americans are used to the casual service burger on the way to soccer practice."
Putt's personal touch is also evident in his ice carvings, which have become his favorite pastime. Among his notable sculptures was a nine-foot long display at the Baltimore Aquarium last year, which included 3,600 pounds of ice and two live fish tanks. He plans to make a similarly large sculpture in the F&M dining hall at some point in the coming months.
But for now, Putt concentrates on the upcoming Sushi Night (Feb. 10) and Mardi Gras celebration (Feb. 16). He continues to search for new ideas, a part of his job that never gets old.
"That's one of the most exciting things about this career," he says. "You never know everything, and there's always an opportunity to learn from other chefs.
"It's neat to see how the campus food service has evolved. It's not cafeteria style. People say, 'I feel like I'm in a nice restaurant.' That's what we strive for, to provide a quality experience for our guests."