Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898

Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898

The College Pump

How to Have Flu

November-December 2010

When David Barry ’63 was in college, he looked forward to flu season with some enthusiasm. He lived off campus and alone, and when he felt aches and shivers coming on, he checked into Stillman Infirmary in Holyoke Center.

“It was like going to a European spa,” Barry recalls in a letter to this magazine. “It was right in Harvard Square, and it was sumptuous. Living off campus, I didn’t eat particularly well--and the meals at the infirmary were not to be believed. A menu was sent to you in the morning asking your choices for lunch and dinner. There would always be at least two entrées, often three, with a full choice of side orders of vegetables. Frequently there would be an entrée I had never tasted or heard of before. The food was as good as that at any restaurant I had ever been to.”

Barry is now an award-winning investigative journalist and lives in Newtown, Pennsylvania. He continues his recollection of the delicious good old days: “I once ordered something that required being brought up to my room on a steam table because the chef wanted to be sure it was at the proper temperature when it arrived. It was. It was staggeringly good. Then a query came up from the kitchen: Had that entrée been satisfactory? I sent back a note saying yes, it had been wonderful. I received back a polite note of thanks.

“The rumor back then,” Barry writes, “was that the chef (whom no patient ever saw, to my knowledge) had been the chef of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, who depended on him so much that he took him to Africa for his eponymous tank battle at El Alamein. The story was so good that I discounted it. In my experience, stories as good as that always turn out not to be true.” 

But it was true. Germany drafted chef Bruno G. Fricker in 1939 to instruct mess sergeants in the culinary arts. He was taken prisoner in 1943 by the English but wound up in the custody of the Americans. They discovered his talents and put him in charge of the prisoners’ mess. An inspecting sergeant, testing the prisoners’ food one day, found that they were eating better than the American troops and requisitioned Fricker for the GIs’ kitchen. A captain stopped by to test his soldiers’ fare and straightaway promoted the chef to the officers’ mess. Fricker later was sent to the United States and ran the kitchens at three prisoner-of-war camps in Missouri. At war’s end he returned to Germany, but three years later emigrated to the United States. He cooked in various venues and for a time dished up his Rahmschnitzel, vol-au-vents, and stroganoff for patients in Stillman. He died in Weymouth, Massachusetts, in 1988. These days, Stillman patients are fed by Harvard University Hospitality and Dining Services.

In Africa, Fricker had indeed been Rommel’s chef. He told this magazine, for an article in the February 17, 1962, issue (Barry missed it; perhaps he was in the infirmary), that he had concocted a special stew for the Desert Fox, whom he addressed as “Pop.” “Real cooking is very important,” said Fricker. “One must cook with heart and love.”

• • •

More food: Cooking has entered the General Education curriculum this fall with “Science and Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to Soft Matter Science.” Each week a world-class chef lectures on an aspect of gastronomy, motivating lectures by professors on the science of soft materials, of which all food is made. The chefs also give public talks. For coverage of the first one--by Ferran Adrià, master of culinary foams--other videos, and the schedule of lectures to come, see http://seas.harvard.edu/cooking

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