Student dishes up cafeteria food reviews

Carlisle High School senior Rick Seltzer, center, not only eats in the school cafeteria, he also reviews the food.Carolyn Kaster / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Rick Seltzer’s interest in journalism and passion for food have thrust him into an unusual role at his high school newspaper: cafeteria critic.

Seltzer has written Rick’s Cafe Critique, a regular feature in the monthly Periscope, since about midway through his junior year at Carlisle High School. He has graded everything from chicken patties to cheese steaks using a rating system of up to five "sporks," plastic utensils that combine a spoon and a fork.

It seems everyone devours his monthly bites of wisdom except for the cafeteria staff, oddly enough. But the 18-year-old senior says he doesn’t want his musings to be mistaken for a high school-style Zagat guide.

“People have taken it for what it is ... something that’s entertaining,” he said. “It’s really something to lighten your day.”

Seltzer’s culinary critiques appear to be a rarity in high school journalism. It’s more common for school newspapers to publish straight news stories focusing on the quality of cafeteria food, said Marc Wood, a spokesman for the National Scholastic Press Association in Minneapolis.

“As far as I know, food reviews are pretty rare in the high school press,” Wood said.

Family ties to food
It all started for Seltzer — whose uncle is an executive chef at local Dickinson College and whose late grandfather also was a chef — when he joined the newspaper in the 2003-04 school year.

In staff meetings, he was prone to raving ecstatically about a favorite foodstuff he had consumed that day, such as the egg sandwich.

His fellow staffers found his commentary so entertaining that they encouraged him to write a regular cafeteria column, said English teacher Robert Moyer, the newspaper’s adviser.

“We’ve had a lot of good student response to the column,” Moyer said. “I enjoy the column, and I’ve never eaten the cafeteria food.”

Fellow senior Susan Thomas, 17, counts herself among Seltzer’s regular readers. She said she’s particularly amused by the silly photos of the author that accompany the column — in one, he wore a chef’s hat while eating clam chowder.

“It’s the first thing I read,” she said. “A lot of it is for the picture.”

Cafeteria director wants one-on-one
Food-service director Kelly Renard read Seltzer’s inaugural review — four sporks for the clam chowder — but didn’t realize it was a regular fixture until a local newspaper recently published a story about Seltzer.

Renard said Seltzer’s scrutiny doesn’t upset her, but she would like to a chance to educate him about cafeteria operations.

“If he’s doing it the same way he would review a McDonald’s or a Burger King, we fall under completely different guidelines and can’t do the same things that a normal restaurant would do,” she said.

Seltzer said he avoids overly harsh criticism because he understands the school has hundreds of students to feed over three lunch periods, each lasting less than a half-hour.

And even though he began this school year bemoaning a new “healthy eating” policy, which replaced regular potato chips with baked ones, among other things, he said the overall food quality has “definitely” improved since then.

“Whether it’s me, or whether they’re getting used to cooking what they’re cooking, I don’t know,” he said.