2001-07/08 AIR: Scientific Dining
FBI National Academy's Dining Hall, Quantico, Virginia
By Mark Benecke
[All AIR publications]
This is a raw version of an article published in Annals of Improbable Research Vol. 7, Nr. 4 (July/August 2001), pages 19-21
Around an hour car drive from Washington D.C., in the middle of extensive woods, the FBI Academy's Dining Hall is located. To make it short, this is the most incredible governmental eatery the author has ever seen -- and he has seen plenty worldwide.
Mostly Special Agents, and Special Agents-To-Be are served a choice of meals that some good restaurants would dream of. However, the basic impression of all people that were approached by the author, was that "the food here was better in earlier times", that the meals were "well, so-and-so", or that the food was "jeeeez, yucky". Being asked what had been better at earlier times, the Famous Steak And Wine Evening was mentioned by older agents. Noone could recall, however, in which year exactly those evenings stopped, or on which day of the week the event had taken place. (Further investigation with veteran eaters narrowed it down to Wednesday or Thursday). Another disturbing comment of an eating agent was: "It's good that I was single when I first came to the Academy. If not, I would have driven home every night just for dinner."
On a randomly chosen weekday in the FBI Academy's eatery, a choice of deliciously grilled steaks, fried chicken, vegetarian chili, ranch style baked beans, green peas, the softest corn on the cob the author ever tasted, hot cabbage slaw, and baked potatoes available. All this went together with a variety of one dozen salads, and nearly as many dressings (nine, actually). Unbelievable but true, the salad plates are getting cooled down to around 14 ºC in a special container that is located next to the salad bar before being used.
The rules concerning mixing dishes are strict. When the author asked if it was allowed to get his steak together with vegetarian chili, he was told that this was impossible, and that he should choose rice instead. However, there was freedom of choice with two types of soft ice cream of a daily changing flavor (e.g., blueberry, cappuccino, vanilla, etc.), and more than 15 different juices and softdrinks. Here, an interesting observation could be made. Depending on the soft ice cream flavors served, the proportion of eaters who mixed the flavors varied significantly. For example, blueberry-flavored soft ice cream was seldomly mixed, whereas cappuccino was frequently mixed (fig. 1; table 1). During breakfast, the levers of the soft ice machine were wrapped in a transparent foil.
Concerning the soft drinks, the author was startled when he was approached by an agent and asked if he had tried the ice. Since the Northern American custom of diluting drinks with large amounts of frozen water is not practized in the home country of the author, he denied. The agent seemed to be satisfied, nodded and left with murmuring "very good".
Being deeply into sweets, the restaurant critique found out that on most days, more than four different types of freshly baked cookies along with the same variety of mini muffins are available. Sometimes, the cookies are exchanged against an excellent type of puffed rice that is sweet but miraculously does not stick to your fingers. Next to five different types of fresh fruit (served at night), there was also a very nice kind of pudding being served for breakfast whose flavor was changed every second day (strawberry, peach, etc.). This pudding came together with a good fruit salad dominated by fresh pineapples. Both pudding and fruit salad could be obtained at a self-service bar in unlimited amounts. Should you plan to visit the FBI Academy's eatery, consider a Monday: This is the Academy's Make Your Own Sundae Night.
The FBI Academy's dining hall is decorated with oversized flags of all U.S. states. The flags are framed, and attached half way to the very high ceiling. A large flag of the United States, together with the Bureaus logo is attached to the entrance side of the hall (fig. 2). Piles of bread that might have been thought as decoration were eaten within a few days by guests. Since many of the eaters wore brownish pistols, the author did not try to discuss that topic any further. (Later it came out that all painted pistols in the building are fake weapons for beginners.)
The dress code within the eatery is somewhat weird. A sign at the entrance explicitly discourages wearing shorts. Since the clima control sends a cold breeze through the room, and because of the standard training uniform consisting of green shirts and beige field trousers, it is hard to imagine anyone trying to wear shorts (fig. 3). A fashionable item that is a must in the eatery is a neckband saying either FBI Academy (white embroidered letters on blue ribbon band), or FBI National Academy (white on green). The ribbon is designed to hold the student's ID; the ID's allow to open all doors in the building that lead to/from the outside. (Inside the building, the ID's are of no use since inside doors are not closed.) The ID's also provide one with as many free meals as one wishes.
Neither bearded men nor any other photographs are, or were ever present in the eatery. One reason for this might be that the directors of the FBI tend not to wear beards. However, a high incidence of moustaches was observed amongst the (male) eaters.
Fig. 1: Sometimes, the soft ice cream is getting mixed but sometimes, it is not. Photograph: Mark Benecke
Fig. 2: The dining hall is overshadowed by governmental signs. Photograph: Mark Benecke
Fig. 3: The dress code in the eatery is relatively strict: no shorts allowed. Photograph: Mark Benecke