Grilling the Chef: Luiza Bloomberg Feeds UVM Fraternity Brothers | Grilling the Chef | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

Food + Drink » Grilling the Chef

Grilling the Chef: Luiza Bloomberg Feeds UVM Fraternity Brothers

By

Luiza Bloomberg - LUKE AWTRY
  • Luke Awtry
  • Luiza Bloomberg

Chef Luiza Bloomberg

  • Position: Chef at fraternities Alpha Gamma Rho and Sigma Phi Society at the University of Vermont
  • Location: Burlington
  • Age: 47
  • Cuisine type: All kinds
  • Education: Self-taught cook; studied psychology at Castleton University with a concentration in forensic psychology
  • Experience: Owner of Luiza's Homemade With Love since December 2013, private chef, caterer and teacher of pierogi-making classes. Before starting her business, Bloomberg worked in mental health for the Vermont State Hospital, the Department of Corrections and the Woodside Juvenile Center, as well as at group homes.
  • What's on the menu? Pierogi, of course; chicken Parmesan; beet-cured salmon; Mediterranean-style grazing platters; steak sandwiches; al pastor tacos

The brothers of fraternities Alpha Gamma Rho and Sigma Phi Society at the University of Vermont have it good. Monday through Friday, Luiza Bloomberg prepares their lunch and dinner.

Bloomberg is well known in the Burlington area for her pierogi — and other dishes from her native Poland — which she serves at pop-ups and sells directly through her business, Luiza's Homemade With Love. But during the school year, when her event schedule slows down, she cooks in the kitchen of AGR's stately brick house on South Prospect Street, just off the UVM campus.

"I feel like I live here. Right, CK?" Bloomberg said, addressing AGR president and UVM senior Connor Kepcher.

The ecological agriculture major was sitting on the other side of the fraternity house's front porch, wearing AirPods and working on an insect collection for an entomology course. "He's ignoring me," Bloomberg added with a laugh.

She's been doing all the planning, shopping and cooking for the fraternity — feeding 12 to 16 brothers at a time — since the fall of 2018. Last year, she started cooking extra meals to deliver to Sigma Phi down the street.

Many U.S. fraternities and sororities hire personal chefs; some companies even specialize in chef services for Greek houses. But most of those chefs aren't cooking Bloomberg's menu of pierogi, beef tongue and steamed lobster.

Taking a break from his homework, Kepcher listed his favorite Bloomberg dishes, starting with beef Stroganoff. "I like the pierogis, too, obviously," he said.

Kepcher has lived in the house since spring break 2020, when UVM switched to remote learning and ordered students to leave campus. "If Luiza could be our house mother, we'd do it," he said. "Nationals says we don't need one, but she fills in that role."

While he was talking, Bloomberg rolled up her sleeve to show her tattoo: a chef's knife emblazoned with the fraternity's letters. "I'm like the unknown brother," she said.

Bloomberg talked with Seven Days about why she loves the job, what frat boys eat and who does the dishes — and Kepcher couldn't help but chime in.

Luiza (center) with Alpha Gamma Rho president Connor Kepcher and rush chair AJ Ayers - LUKE AWTRY
  • Luke Awtry
  • Luiza (center) with Alpha Gamma Rho president Connor Kepcher and rush chair AJ Ayers

SEVEN DAYS: How did you become a fraternity chef?

LUIZA BLOOMBERG: A few months before I saw the job posting on Craigslist, somebody told me, "You should look for jobs working at fraternities." My business is slower in the school year, and I needed something else. I happened to see the post and thought, You know what? I'll just apply. Why not? I don't remember what all the job requirements were. But I didn't have to do dishes.

SD: I was going to ask about the dishes!

LB: The brothers do the dishes. They have to clean the floors, take the garbage out — all that stuff. Everybody signs up for lunch duty and dinner duty. It helps to keep people accountable: They know there's no food if the dishes are not done.

SD: That sounds like a useful threat.

LB: It happened more my first year, when they were still getting used to my way of doing things.

SD: How did you set those expectations with a house full of college guys?

LB: I mean, with any job you start, people see how much they can test each other. We definitely had some fun the first year of like, "OK, let's see what she can handle."

SD: Did they prank you?

LB: Oh yeah.

CONNOR KEPCHER: We had to take away her water gun.

LB: I had a water gun because they were not—

CK: And you were in trouble for the water gun.

LB: So, yes, definitely. I've locked the fridge before with a padlock. They were eating all the stuff for dinner. They figured out how to open it enough to leave little notes inside.

One time we were doing fried Oreos, and I threw in an onion. I put it on the same plate and didn't say anything. We all became very creative about this kind of stuff, and I think it was a great way of, like, getting to know each other in a fun way — instead of them being like, "Oh, we have to be scared of her." I don't think I have a big fear factor.

SD: Have you ever come across something really gross, like stereotypical frat house stuff?

Students serving themselves dinner - LUKE AWTRY
  • Luke Awtry
  • Students serving themselves dinner

LB: Little stuff, but not much more than when they forget to take the garbage out for a long period of time. I have a teenage son, so I'm prepared for anything. But working here has helped me understand him more.

Fraternities have these bad reputations, but at the same time, most people don't see the everyday life. You don't see them, you know, being upset because they broke up with a girlfriend. I've seen them cry. I've seen them worry about weight and share exciting news in their lives.

Maybe I have a different perspective because I have three kids, but I look at them as humans. Seeing these guys and watching them grow during their college years, I'm like, "This is somebody's son."

SD: What does a typical week look like?

LB: I'm here Monday through Friday, and I do lunch and dinner. Mondays, we have a chapter meeting, so all the brothers come in. They get dressed up and sit down for dinner and the meeting. On Fridays, I do brunch and prepare something for the evening so they can either reheat it or grill. I try to make extra every day so they have leftovers for the weekend. I cook out of this kitchen and then just drop the meals off at Sigma Phi.

SD: How is that different from cooking pierogi for a crowd at the ArtsRiot Truck Stop or a brewery pop-up?

LB: This is more fun! At events, where there might be 300, 500 people — or 1,000 or 3,000 — I make pierogi for days and days. No end. I've run out of shows to watch while making pierogi. Even though it seems like I cook for a lot of people here, it's fun because we cook so many different things. I get to be creative.

SD: What are some of your favorite things to cook for the brothers?

LB: I think their favorite things are pork enchiladas and steak sandwiches. I surprised them with lobsters and corn one time; I put everything in a cooler to keep it steaming, and they were really excited when they opened it up.

I try to shop locally, at local farms. The brothers have a garden and chickens, so they'll go out and pick tomatoes or grab eggs. We've done some fun things together, too. We've cooked octopus, and squid-ink risotto. I made beef tongue sandwiches and didn't tell them 'til afterwards what it was.

SD: How did that go?

LB: They actually ate it. And they were like, "Oh, if you told us before, we probably wouldn't have." I really opened up their taste buds.

I always try to make salad, and I hide a lot of eggplant in the meat sauce. But I do the same thing to my own kids. And I try not to repeat things over and over. Although, chicken Parmesan — during COVID, when there were no in-person classes, I think we made chicken Parm every week. At the end, I was like, "Do not ask me for chicken Parm!"

SD: Do they ever cook?

LB: Last year we had a [regular] Thursday brother takeover. They mostly know what they're doing, but there were times when they needed some extra help.

One time, someone wanted to make a Czech dinner. He didn't have a recipe, but his grandmother always made a dish with sauerkraut and pork. I'm Polish, and we have the same kind of thing; we just call it something different. So we made that together. And we cook everything from Thai to Chinese, Italian to Polish.

They have made me dinner — they even set up a white tablecloth with flowers. They made chicken Parm [laughing].

SD: Was it good?

LB: [Still laughing] It was really good.

SD: What makes this different from a more traditional cooking job?

LB: I've never cooked anywhere professionally, except owning my own business and doing this. But I have a background in psychology, and this kind of combines my loves of psychology and cooking.

I didn't know what to expect from this job, but I fell in love with it. It's nice to have the summer off, but I always look forward to coming back to them.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

The original print version of this article was headlined "What a Rush"