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OVERVIEW — FEBRUARY 2014

 

Culinary Creativity on Campus

 

Twenty years ago, if you had told someone that some of the most cutting-edge culinary techniques and trends would someday be commonplace in college dining, he or she wouldn't have believed you. But today, campus dining is often synonymous with creativity.

Thanks to the popularity of food-related television programs like those on the Food Network, Travel Channel and PBS, students are up on the latest food trends. They also eat on your campus daily for months, so keeping them from being bored with your offerings or developing “taste fatigue” is important.

College and university chefs from around the country, many of them graduates of the top culinary schools, tell us they enjoy the culinary creativity that higher education environments give them. They know that they have a demanding audience, and are excited about meeting the challenge.

Keeping things from getting boring is important for Faculty and Staff Club Chef Lauren Lundquist at San Diego State University (SDSU) in California. She is always on the lookout for ways to be innovative. “We try to come up with a new menu every week,” she said. “We don't want to get too complacent and have the same items so that if you don't visit us one week, two weeks later you are seeing the same items.”

When he travels, Tim McFate, chef manager of the Portfolio Café at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in Providence, always searches for the latest culinary trends, with an eye toward bringing something new to campus. After visiting a few popular eateries around the country, he adapted notoriously inexpensive — and now trendy — ramen noodles to create an extremely popular station. He combines the ramen with different authentic international flavors to bring his clientele tastes found in some of the trendiest restaurants in the country.

At the University of Maryland in College Park, Jeffrey Russo, executive pastry chef with Dining Services, is concerned with things like “mouthfeel” and “aftertang” when he comes up with the latest flavors for the school's own ice cream. Dining Services depends upon the same all-natural and fresh ingredients used in “gourmet” ice creams.

Molecular gastronomy has even found its way onto campus. A special event called Compounds & Cuisine on the campuses of Fairfield University and the University of Bridgeport, both in Connecticut, demonstrated various techniques that combine science, chemistry and food. Not very many restaurants would be familiar with the liquid nitrogen used as an ingredient there.

Another big trend has been the “Farm to Fork” movement. Without a doubt, college and university chefs have been leading the way for many years on this topic. The use of local and seasonal ingredients has come to be the norm at many schools; in fact, it has become the foundation of Denison Dining at Denison University in Granville, Ohio.

It isn't too difficult to find examples such as these at campuses across the country. These schools are finding that the key to keeping students happy is keeping the culinary creativity in overdrive!

 

Gregg Wallis