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  • Writer's pictureGustavo Azevedo

Turning The Table: A Conversation with the Mensa

Interviews conducted by Gustavo Azevedo

From left: Pietro Cianti, Julie Idahor, Lunella Mingarelli, Valentino Bolo, Raimondo Pellicere, Francesco Aprea

During our time at the JFRC, we’ve all had different experiences, whether that be the places we’ve traveled to, the courses we took, or the professors we loved the most. But when it comes to the cafeteria - or, as we call it here at the John Felice Rome Center (JFRC), “Mensa”, we all share a substantial part of our days together catching up with friends and eating the food prepared for us by a dedicated team.

As I look back on the two semesters I spent on this campus, I certainly had a lot of Mensa food but not very much interaction with the people that run it. I decided to write this article peeking behind the curtain and talking directly to those that feed us on a daily basis to close this gap; what I found was a caring and dedicated group of workers that throws a lot of passion into our daily pasta al pomodoro.

Meeting The Team

Raimondo Pellicere:

-Head chef

-Employed at JFRC: 5 years

Francesco Aprea:


-Employed at JFRC: 12 years

Valentino Bolo:

-2nd Chef

-Employed at JFRC: since March

Lunella Mingarelli:


-Employed at JFRC: 10 years

Julie Idahor:


-Employed at JFRC: since March

I sat down with some of the Mensa team and my translator/resident director, Jack Spittle. I then asked questions to spark a discussion between us.

What is your favorite part about your job?

Lunella jokingly says, “The chef!” making the entire table laugh. Raimondo (Mensa's head chef) blushes a little in response. She then says that the environment filled with young people can be energizing and invigorating, even though sometimes we give her plenty of reasons to be pissed off.

Raimondo confidently answers, “The work, the passion for cooking”. I could tell by how quickly and confidently he answered that he truly meant it. Valentino responded that he shares the same passion for cooking and he too considers it the best thing about his job.

And then we have Julie, a face that we’re not used to seeing. She’s a humble, charismatic, shy Nigerian woman that washes the dishes. She answers in English by saying “I’m very happy with my job”.

What is your least favorite part about your job?

“The director,” Francesco answers jokingly, referring to himself. He then gives his true answer. Receiving complaints has always been something he dislikes. Not because he doesn’t want people to complain, but because his and his team’s goal is to cook food that can make the students happy and satisfied. The idea that some people leave Mensa unsatisfied or unhappy tells him he’s not doing his job correctly.

Raimondo, being the sweet and caring man that he is, answers with “When the students leave”. He is immediately teased by Lunella for being a “kiss-ass”.

Lunella dislikes that every semester she goes through the process of getting to know the students but then they suddenly leave and she must start the process again with another group. “It is also hard to say goodbye to students from last semester that you’ll miss,” she adds.

Valentino gives a more logistical answer. “Working on Sunday,” he says. He then explains that as an avid AS Roma fan, constantly missing his team playing can be upsetting.

Julie acknowledges that she is very new to her job and is still learning the ropes.

What do you think the students need to know about your work?

“We put a lot of effort into what we do, a lot of passion,” Lunella says. “But obviously, we’re human beings, sometimes mistakes happen. Still, there is real dedication and passion behind what we do,” she concludes.

Raimondo jumps into the discussion by addressing that he wishes there was more of a dialogue between the students and Mensa. Of course, there is the complaint box that was established this semester, but complaints like “I like fries" and "I don’t like tuna in my pasta” only go so far. “Seeing that some students put their trays away with food still on their plate also upsets me,” he says. “A more helpful dialogue would include suggestions to fix the food waste we see,” he continues. One constant complaint that they receive refers to the diversity of food served. As a response to this, Raimondo and his team have been studying and working through new items. This explains the sudden addition of sloppy joes, chili, paella, and much more.

Raimondo’s response gets nods of agreement from all around the table. Lunella also adds a piece of curiosity that surprised me. 10 years ago, when she had just started her job, students were often requesting authentic homemade Italian dishes. She concludes by explaining that the taste of JFRC students has changed, they want more diversity, and the Mensa team is doing its best to satisfy that need.

Jack then tells the Mensa team something they hadn’t heard before, how food halls work in the US. He tells them about the diversity that can be found in De Nobili’s food hall, for example. I was shocked to see the awe on the faces of all of those I was interviewing. They had no idea how an American food hall works. I then realized the cultural clash between their goal and our expectations. This is another reason why open dialogue with Mensa is essential to its improvement moving forward.

. . .

Spending time with these people, I realized the work and effort that goes into the food we can count on every single day. I can only hope that this article can inspire change in how we approach Mensa and its hard-working team.

Per Francesco, Raimondo, Valentino, Julie, Lunella, Pietro, Milene, e Martine;

Grazie di tutto. Ci mancherai molto!

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