Sodexo chefs revamp dining hall menus
The regional chefs that visited campus are hoping to include more vegan and vegetarian dining hall options.
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Last Tuesday, Nov. 8, five regional Sodexo chefs visited the College to experiment with new vegan and vegetarian recipes in order to give the students a taste of what will be on the new and improved menu in the coming spring semester.
“We’ve really been putting our heads to the grindstone over the past two years to come up with these creative recipes,” District Executive Chef of Colby College Wendy Benney said. “Our goal was to build 100 new recipes for all of [the Sodexo chefs] to use in our various schools. They’ll hopefully get integrated into the spring menu and we’ll keep building on that so that it doesn’t become stagnant or boring and so that we can work with seasonal ingredients.”
“It’s fun to learn from each other and see how others present their food,” Gary Symolon, senior executive chef at Babson College, said. “It’s good to get a different perspective—we can all learn something new.”
Denis Gagne, executive chef at Clark University, agreed. “We’re usually more involved in day-to-day operations so it’s great to get back in touch with the creative side of our job,” Gagne said.
The focus on vegan and vegetarian food is part of the College’s effort to offer healthier food choices, and to better accommodate students with allergies and dietary restrictions.
“Everyone can eat food that is gluten free, and it’s actually healthier,” Regional Nutrition Manager Danielle Shargorodsky said. “I’m working with the chefs here to make sure that our new recipes are meeting our health and wellness goals. We’re seeing what we can do to make student favorites healthier—like using whole grain pasta and vegetables in our macaroni and cheese, for example.”
Benney has also been adapting many existing recipes to create healthier dishes. “We’re approaching it from a nutritional aspect,” Benney said. “We’re eliminating fats we don’t need, making sure there are complementary proteins with every meal and using natural gluten-free thickeners like cornstarch and flaxseed in our sauces—this accommodates allergies and actually has great health benefits too.”
Another goal for the upcoming semester is to add variety to the grain and vegetable selection in the dining halls. “We’re really looking to think outside the box,” Benney said. “We want to represent different cultures in the spices and ingredients we use and expose kids to different types of food and ways to create healthy plates that meet nutrition criteria.”
The chefs are committed to making vegan and vegetarian food more accessible and more appealing to students who might not otherwise pick up a plate of tofu in the dining hall.
“Vegan food is sexy,” Benney said, only half-jokingly. “It looks really good on the plate and there are so many interesting colors, textures and tastes to play with. We’ve been very successful in the past and I really think Colby is the perfect setting to push creative and healthy food choices. The students’ willingness to try these different foods really helps us.”
A spiced braised vegetable and bean flatbread wrap with marinated cabbage, roasted potato and toasted herb wheat pizza, and stuffed portobella mushrooms with chickpeas and roasted tomatoes were just a few of the dishes that the team introduced to the dinner menu on Thursday evening at Roberts Dining Hall.
Overall the feedback was very positive. One male student, who stated that he did not normally choose vegan and vegetarian dishes, stopped at the Roberts Dining Hall entrance to sample the tofu pad Thai and spicy eggplant in cashew sauce; he enjoyed it so much that he came back a few minutes later, this time to ask whether he could have the dish for his main meal.
“We of course gave him a big plateful,” Shargorodsky said. “It was exciting to see how these innovative dishes appealed not only to the vegan and vegetarian population, but to the whole campus community.” In an effort to promote healthy eating habits in a college setting, Shargorodsky also took the opportunity to share her Guide to Eating Healthy On-Campus with students as they entered the dining hall.
“The new nutrition booklet is all about teaching students to navigate the dining hall, build healthy plates and moderate their portion sizes,” she said. “Coming from home into an ‘all you can eat’ environment is difficult for a lot of students. With the stress, the late night snacking and the fact that Mom is not around, it’s harder to make healthy choices.”
With the dining halls broadening their selection of vegan and vegetarian dishes and altering favorite recipes for added health benefits, making healthier choices will become easier. The goal is also to promote the idea that an “all you can eat environment” is a great opportunity to broaden your horizons, try new foods and get creative with your food in a healthy way.
A free copy of the Guide to Eating Healthy On-Campus is available to download online, and Shargorodsky encourages students to contact her anytime via phone, e-mail or Facebook or to talk to the nutrition consultant on campus, Caroline Mathes, if they have any nutrition questions, concerns or ideas they’d like to address.
“I was very happy with this event and thought it was a success,” Shargorodsky said. “It was great to see that students were very receptive to our health and wellness initiatives.”
“This has been a learning experience for us as well—this business is never boring,” Benney said. “We think students will be blown away by the new food.”