No one wants to be in quarantine, but the experience is a whole lot better with Ronald Bernard on kitchen duty. During the pandemic, Bernard has jumped from line cook in the University of Georgia’s Savannah Room to preparing fresh hot meals for students quarantined in the Georgia Center for Continuing Education & Hotel.
A veteran of high-volume kitchens for 30 years, Bernard is used to cooking for a wide variety of customers including various luminaries and the football team, but now he’s focused on giving the same high-quality fare (and care) to these students.
“I take care of those kids like VIPs because right now they are my VIPs. I want them to be happy,” said Bernard, noting that his whole team has risen to the challenge during this unusual time. That happiness comes in the form of three freshly prepared meals a day. Every day students choose what they want to order from a wide variety, including the ultimate comfort food: Bernard’s homemade mac and cheese.
Vegans and vegetarians are covered, too, with options at breakfast, lunch and dinner. A crowd favorite is the pulled pork sandwich, which is smoked for 13 to 14 hours in the on-premise smoker, then covered in freshly made barbecue sauce. (To hear Bernard passionately describe the careful preparation of the pulled pork is to want that pulled pork now.)
To keep everyone safe during the process, managers wearing protective masks deliver the food to each student’s door. Managers leave the packaged meals in a bag at the door and knock before stepping away, allowing for a contactless delivery to each student.
Bernard grew up in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, immigrating to the U.S. in 1988 and becoming a citizen in 2011. His cooking model when he was growing up was his mother, Monique Edouard. Food is Bernard’s love language, his way of showing love and care. “I work from my heart – it’s been over 30 years and this is what I do,” he said. “If you taste something, I love to see you say, ‘Hey, it’s good! I like it.’ I love to cook and I love to see people happy.”
A father to four adult children – Allan 29, Jade 25, Daphney 20, and Christopher 18, with wife Sophia – Bernard treats the students like extended family. “We make sure everything’s nice because right now these kids are here and even if they live in Georgia, they’re not home.”
He also knows that when parents call their kids, one of their big questions is going to be “What have you been eating?” Bernard wants them to have a reassuring answer.