The Eighth Page

Campus Chef Celebrates 20th Anniversary His Secret? ‘I put my hairs in every dish I prepare.’

In the Wetherell Dining Hall, Head Chef Ron Turner celebrated his 20th year of cooking for the Exeter community. At a ceremony on Wednesday, faculty and students gave Turner a standing ovation as he emerged from the kitchen. Turner is best known for his spaghetti pie, ravioli and two rape convictions. “This is one of the happiest days of my life,” Turner said, dusting off his blood stained apron. Throughout his 20 years of service in the Exeter community, Turner has always had a smile on his face and a few beef bones in his pocket. “For local dogs and freshmen,” he said. Students have enjoyed his food for two decades, and alumni often return to talk to him about their fond memories of Exeter cuisine. “When people ask me my secret, I just tell them the truth: I put a few of my hairs in every dish I prepare. That way, it’s got a personal touch,” Turner said. At 61 years of age, Turner looks back fondly on a career highlighted by his time at Exeter. Upon graduating from the sixth grade in northern Maine, Turner got a job peeling potatoes in a Canadian prison. He proudly references his scarred hands, remarking, “I peeled more potatoes in eight years than I could have dreamed.” After a respectable career in the Canadian prison system, where he was awarded the prize for “Best Cold Mush” for three consecutive years, Turner contemplated his future. “I had two careers in mind after the Moose Castle gig ended. I could have been a plus-size model for ‘Prison Chef Monthly’ or work at a boarding school in New Hampshire,” Turner recalls. That boarding school was Phillips Exeter Academy. And that magazine stopped being published after only two editions. When he arrived at Exeter, Turner knew he had made the right choice. “Sure, I passed up wealth and fame,” Turner says incorrectly, “but the friendships I’ve forged here are outstanding. They rival some of the friends I made up in Canada.” While Turner’s friends in Wetherell’s kitchen aren’t as tattooed and criminally active as his Canadian prison chef buddies, they’re still from New Hampshire and that’s pretty close. Betty Robinson has worked with Turner for six years. “He’s a great guy. Not the brightest tool in the shed, but a fine man, nonetheless. It’s not easy to work for twenty years in one job without asking for or receiving a raise, but Turner did it. He’s just so humble. And he doesn’t know what inflation is,” Robinson said with a toothless grin. Throughout Turner’s tenure at Exeter, the faculty has appreciated his culinary skills. “When I began teaching at Exeter in 1993, I was worried that the town wouldn’t have enough restaurants. I did realize that fear, but what surprised me was that I seldom ordered-out when Ron’s cooking was just across the street,” Todd Matthews, instructor in Biology said. Sheryl Becker ’09 offered a different opinion. “It’s time for Turner to retire. His cooking methods are so outdated,” she said. Becker was referring to Turner’s refusal to use electricity in the kitchen and his reluctancy to wash food before preparing it. “Why wash it off with water before you eat it?” Turner asks. “Just think about how disgusting your stomach is. Why should you be cleaning something you’re turning into poop?” When asked how long he’ll remain at Exeter, Turner paused and smiled. “In 2008, my parole officer says I can leave New Hampshire. So I guess I’ll go then.”