“Our food service people have a big challenge to keep everyone happy and well fed,” said JoAnne Boyle, president of Seton Hill University (SHU). The man in charge of that challenge is Darren Achtzehn, who works for Aramark food services. Achtzehn, director of food services at SHU for 21 years, won the Real Food Award for Food Service Directors or Managers.“Darren is a leader in dining hall sustainability efforts at Seton Hill University. By instituting tray-less dining, Darren reduced waste by 6,152 pounds per semester,” said the Real Food Challenge website. The organization strives to promote “healthy, fair and green food systems.”
“I’m completely humbled and blessed,” said Achtzehn. “I find myself at a loss for words. Things seem so simple when we are doing them, you never think sometimes that they have such a huge impact.”
Not only has Achtzehn’s trayless dining system made SHU’s food system greener, but his creation of a campus garden has produced fresh vegetables to be included on the menu.
On a Facebook wall full of posts about the national award, the appreciation is clear.
“He might say ‘I’m just a poor old farm boy trying to make a living’ but he is the best at it,” posted Katie Frisch, a 2011 graduate.
Achtzehn first started at SHU after his wife filled out an application for him without his knowledge. He was hired within a week.
Achtzehn’s love of food was adopted from his mother who owned an at-home bakery.
“I’m definitely a food-a-holic. Being around food and watching it be prepared has an instant satisfaction. Food is an expression of comfort,” he said.
Achtzehn’s dedication doesn’t stop at the food service of SHU. He can often be found helping out all over campus.
“We really are a community here [at SHU]. Part of my job is to guide you through your experience and to help. Life is difficult as it is, college shouldn’t have to be,” he said.
Achtzehn said his helping out was part of how he was raised. He is a third-generation volunteer firefighter in Madison, Pa. and his family has a rescued dog named Stewie.
“My wife would say that I’ve always been willing to drop everything at a drop of the hat to help someone else,” said Achtzehn who can often be found helping out with club events and fundraisers, decorating the cafeteria for every holiday or participating in biannual Habitat for Humanity trips with SHU students.
Achtzehn originally went to school for architecture at a trade school. He decided to go to back to school for culinary arts and food service management.
“I don’t like to be stuck in a room. I wanted to work in food and I wanted to learn both sides of the business,” said Achtzehn who is rarely at his office now that he works at SHU.
One of Achtzehn’s latest projects was the new Cove that offers alternate opportunities for student meals. The design was actually inspired by a series of student focus groups who expressed what they did and didn’t like about the old Griffin’s Cove.
“I often hear from students that there is nothing good to eat tonight. That usually just means that there is nothing that they like. We try to strike a balance,” said Achtzehn who, alongside talking about the Cove, cited the kitchen’s open door policy that allows students to request something else to be made for them if they do not like or cannot eat what is being served in the dining hall.”