St. John’s College serves hot lunches with a side of staff appreciation

The St. John’s College Hot Lunch program has been bringing together good food and good conversations for staff across campus.

Since the program’s inception in 2012, its popularity has grown substantially, with hundreds of staff regularly attending.

The program is the handiwork of a committee of senior staff members who felt that UBC staff were generally under appreciated, particularly compared to students and faculty. The purpose of the program was for staff to take a break once every month and meet new people whom they might only know over email.

“[The committee] talked about faculty, students and staff at UBC. [Staff] is always sort of the last of the trio,” said Dr. Henry Yu, principal of St. John’s College and a member of the Hot Lunch committee. “And really, the university runs so well because of staff, and one of the things that the committee really talked about was how there were very few opportunities for staff to actually meet each other and network.”

Today, the Hot Lunch program is a monthly cross-campus event for staff to network over a fresh meal, with presentations from top UBC administrators like President Santa Ono and Chancellor Steven Lewis Point.

Hot Lunches take place on the last Wednesday of the month. Tickets are $10.

According to Yu, the international cuisine is one of the highlights of the program. The menus are prepared by chefs Clarence Tay and Syaiful Anwar and their kitchen crew.

In accordance with St. John’s motto, “the world around our table,” the cooks prepare different global cuisines every month, ranging from Mediterranean to Chinese to Malaysian.

“We’re an international graduate college so we have [chefs] who can prepare all kinds of different meals. And our students are from all around the world so we really do rotate through different meals so everybody can feel home,” said Yu.

The program normally operates in person at the van der Linden Dining Hall at St. John's College on Lower Mall. According to Yu, the building’s fire codes limit attendance to no more than 160, but demand for seats is high.

“Normally we go to capacity and fill [up],” he said.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the program has shifted online. Now, attendees eat their own lunch at home over Zoom. These calls operate like the in-person events, featuring a speech by a UBC administrator followed by breakout rooms with five to six people to mimic real-life table conversations. Zoom also allows a greater number of attendees.

“Even though we can’t get together physically, I think it’s become even more important to have ways to socialize,” Yu said.

“A lot of our staff are really devoted to UBC. There’s so many different units, there are so many people doing different things that [by] meeting them you realize just how many people … work here, doing all kinds of different things so that students and faculty are really well served.”

This article was updated to reflect that Yu’s title is principal, not president.