Salad days at McGill

Posted on Tuesday, August 28, 2012

University shatters Guinness World Record for largest fruit salad

By Neale McDevitt

Volunteers put the finishing touches on McGill's record-breaking fruit salad that tipped the scales at a whopping 11,197 pounds. / Photo: Adam Scotti

In an interview with the McGill Reporter, less than two weeks before McGill was to attempt to break Fresno State University’s Guinness World Record for the largest fruit salad, Mathieu Laperle, Director, McGill Food and Hospitality Services admitted “this is easily the craziest thing we have ever tried.”

And if you happened to walk by a beaming Laperle Tuesday afternoon on Lower Campus, standing in front of an 11,197-pound mountain of freshly cut fruit piled high inside a blue inflatable swimming pool, you might be inclined to agree with that original assessment.

But if you took the time to look beyond the gargantuan mass of glistening fruit to register the smiles and pride that marked the faces of the hundreds of people who squeezed in around that pool, you might reassess that opinion. Students, staff, faculty and administration – all volunteers of the record-breaking effort – standing side by side and applauding themselves as Amanda Mochan, the Guinness adjudicator announced that McGill had in fact established a new world standard.

But what made the record even sweeter was, at day’s end, more than 60 per cent of the salad would be donated to a number of the city’s charities, including Moisson Montréal, the Old Brewery Mission, Dans la Rue, Welcome Hall Mission and Meals on Wheels. In addition, about 300 portions of the salad will be sold in McGill cafeterias, the proceeds of which will be donated to Centraide.

Working the mic

During the course of the day, Oliver de Volpi wielded the microphone with as much skill as he usually handles a knife. “Thank you for coming out, you’re doing great!” he said. He’s officially McGill’s Executive Chef, but on this day, he was part cheerleader, part traffic cop, part concerned parent. “We’re ahead on the chopping but a little behind on unloading the trucks so I need some of you to switch jobs and help bring the fruit in. The rest of you keep cutting safely.”

“I taught him everything he knows,” said de Volpi’s mother, Kathy, with a wry grin, as she put on an apron and waded into the cutting tent.

Inside the tent, which just days before had served as the Parents’ Tent, shifts of some hundred volunteers in hairnets – which included Principal Heather Munroe-Blum – stood in rows cutting a seemingly endless supply of honeydew melons, apples, pineapple, cantaloupe, strawberries and other fruit. Volunteers weaved in and out of the rows of tables with wheelbarrows of watermelon, making sure the cutting never stopped.

The floors stayed remarkably clean and dry, with people on brooms patrolling the area to sweep up any stray strawberry that hit the floor. The whole scene was surveyed by teams of McGill chefs who, when they weren’t cutting fruit themselves, offered quick lesson to volunteers on such basics as the proper technique to core a pineapple.

In all, some 5,000 pounds of watermelon, 1,300 pounds of cantaloupe, 1,000 pounds of honeydew, 2,250 pounds of pineapple, 220 pounds of apples and 360 pounds of strawberries were used in the record-breaking salad – with about 60 per cent of it coming down Hwy. 20, from the Macdonald Campus Farm.

The mood was festive, with people – many of whom who had never met – talking and joking with each other. “Oh, the things we do for McGill,” laughed Bruce Lapointe, Emergency Measures Officer, one hour into his shift at the cutting board. “When my wife heard I was doing this she said ‘But you never cook at home.’ Yes, but here I get a free T-shirt.”

“What a crazy, fun, beautiful event,” said Joaquim Miro, a second year Management student, on a break from chopping. “Can you imagine the logistics it took to plan this? And most of the food goes to charity afterward. It’s a demonstration of what people can accomplish when they work together.”

Star-studded lineup

On top of the occasional hungry wasp, the event attracted people from all walks of life, including at least three local politicians.

Marc Garneau, MP for Westmount-Ville-Marie did his part at the cutting board, chopping honeydew melons and eviscerating pineapples. The first Canadian in space, and a man who took part in three missions aboard NASA Space shuttles, Garneau admitted how much fun it was to be part of the event. “Of course it’s exciting,” he said with a laugh. “I’ve never been a part of a Guinness world record.

“And it’s such a great idea for a number of reasons: it’s fun; it emphasizes the importance of supporting local food production; and the fruit salad will be shared with people who might not normally have much access to fresh fruit,” he said

Garneau’s colleagues on the municipal side were equally impressed. Helen Fotopulos, City Councillor for Côte-des-Neiges District didn’t mind donning a hairnet for a good cause. “I’m a McGill grad and it is great to see my alma mater come up with such an original initiative,” she said. “What could be better than a fun project that brings people together, is sustainable and gives something back to the community?”

Sammy Forcillo, Municipal Councilor, Peter McGill District, the University’s home district, said McGill should be held up as example for others – especially in light of recent tensions on campuses across the province. “Elsewhere, there are students who don’t even want to go to school. But look what we have here at McGill – young people working together to feed the community,” he said. “I invite other universities to come up with similar initiatives to help improve our city.”

Also on hand was Mike Bleho, a technician in the Dept. of Plant Science and the man at Macdonald Campus who oversaw the planting and care of the thousands of pounds of fruit that was supplied by Mac Farm. “What an amazing feeling,” he said as he watched bucket after bucket of Mac produce being poured into the large inflatable pool, just minutes away from breaking the record. “The atmosphere in the [cutting] tent was electric all day.

“It was such a great opportunity for us [at Mac Farms],” said Bleho. “We got to grow lots of stuff, hire some students and showcase our produce. And, in the end, we help a lot of people.”

Throughout the day Mochan, the Guinness adjudicator, scrutinized every step of the process. “There are strict guidelines that must be followed in order for the record to be recognized by Guinness,” she said. “In the case of this attempt the salad has to be made of at least five different varieties of fresh fruit with a very small percentage of added juice or other liquid.”

When Mochan announced that McGill had set a new world record with a fruit salad of 11,197 pounds, the crowd, which included volunteers, organizers, local media and throngs of curious passersby, erupted in applause. She then presented Laperle and de Volpi with the official Guinness certificate commemorating the accomplishment.

The smile on Laperle’s face as he posed for a series of smart phone pictures with happy volunteers in front of their record salad spoke volumes. “I am so proud of McGill today and absolutely elated with the result,” he said. “To see everyone working so hard – students and professors side by side with staff, administrators and local politicians – it really made for a great day.”

For de Volpi, however, the work had just begun. “I’m very happy with how things went,” he said. “But we’re not done yet – we still have to serve 1,000 students.” A chef doesn’t stop being a chef until everyone is eating.”

And de Volpi and his team immediately went about doling out fresh fruit salad in compostable cups to everyone, even people who just happened to be passing through campus. The late afternoon sun shone down upon a bucolic scene of happy, smiling people gathered together on the field on Lower Campus enjoying a sweet, nutritious salad made with local produce – the fruits of their labour.

Watch a video about the record-breaking initiative here:

 

 

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6 Responses to Salad days at McGill

  1. Susanne says:

    Congratulations – what a great idea, superbly followed through!

  2. martin silverstone says:

    I hope oli brings some salad out to poker nite!!!

  3. Barbara says:

    I think they all did a wonderful job. My daughter was one of them. I am very proud of u Jennifer Clarke.

  4. Manos Papanikolaou says:

    Congratulations. Hope McGill we’ll win more records!

  5. Roberto Ong says:

    Wish I were there to help with both the making and the eating!

  6. Congrats from Boston! A well thought-out and executed initiative–kudos to everyone involved!

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