Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Hear part of this interview in a Gazette slideshow.
Benton Peak, better and more affectionately known as Chef Ben, has been providing Swarthmore students with meals for five years. The Daily Gazette sat down with Chef Ben to find out more about the man behind Caribbean bar.
Daily Gazette: Could you give a basic introduction about yourself?
Benton Peak: I’ve been at Sharples for about five years now. Originally Jamaican born, I’m a [US] citizen now; I was just naturalized a week ago. As for Sharples, I love working at Sharples because of the benefits as well as the flexibility in terms of the time off. I also try to do my catering on the side. That’s my goal: to have my own catering business someday.
DG: What made you decide to immigrate?
BP: Well, my family actually. I’ve got a wife and an eight year old son. I used to just visit and then we got married and I finally decided to reside here. But I still have family in Jamaica which I visit regularly.
DG: Donny said you were a chef here at Sharples, what do you do specifically in that capacity?
BP: A lot of specialties. I work with food services director and also our purchasing director. I develop menus and new products. Local dinner was one of the big things I was in. I did the chicken, the squash, and the lasagna. Caribbean bar, I established that onto menu. When I got here it was really just jerk chicken and rice. There are a couple of other things where I try to tweak and try to get the students to remember coming to Sharples. I try to perfect things or at least make them better.
DG: So is Caribbean bar made up of recipes you brought from Jamaica?
BP: The jerk marinades, those are something I make from scratch. The rice and beans are also a special recipes. It’s not authentic really, but it’s close enough. Because we do so much in mass amounts, its hard to make real authentic beans. We cut corners on small things but we try to make it as authentic as possible.
DG: How did you end up being a cook?
BP: I never got into the French cuisine and the European style of cooking. Me personally, I call my cooking pretty much freestyle, where you combine things and play around with food. I say get funky with it. Back then it used to be all about the French chef, but now you cook what people really like.
DG: So after five years, what is your view on Swarthmore?
BP: It’s a great place to work, I would recommend someone to work here because of the benefits and atmosphere. It’s not as tense here. When you work in food service, the kitchen can be more of a competitive atmosphere, chefs aren’t competing against each other here. I just do what I do. To answer the question, I love working here.
DG: So do you have any views on politics now that you are a citizen?
BP: I mean, that was on of my main reasons for becoming a citizen. As a permanent resident I wasn’t able to exercise my right to vote. I wanted to start voting and start looking into city jobs.
DG: Any particular views on religion?
BP: Everyone chooses their own religion. I know my own personal belief. I don’t hold nothing against anyone. Yesterday I went out to buy special halal meat for the Muslim students. It is a special meat, sort of like kosher meat, that’s been blessed and killed a certain way.
DG: Any favorite moments here at Sharples?
BP: I would have to say when I did African take home dinner. Last year I would say. I wasn’t quite familiar with all the African products and their style of cooking. I did a little of research and got the menu together. The kids were so appreciative that they walked in the back of the kitchen where I was working and started applauding for the meal we put out that night. That was a great moment because they showed that they really appreciated it.
DG: Any final thoughts?
BP: Pretty much, I’m just trying to make my way to where I’m comfortable where I don’t have to worry about being off in the summertime or things like that. Pretty much I’m just trying to climb the food chain.