A Fresh View for Campus Dining
By Chuck Dodge and Jimmy Dugan A new set of smells has graced the university’s dining facilities this semester, a result of a fresh approach to our dining experience. This year, Dining Services has undergone a rebirth of sorts, under the new leadership of visionary director Michael Zanie. His view of a more natural cooking process has already manifested itself throughout the hill and surely will continue to transform the way that all students, freshmen through seniors, enjoy their food.
You may have already enjoyed a hand-breaded chicken sandwich at Café 77 (the co-op) this semester, or perhaps a just-chopped wedge of lettuce in the Dining Hall. Dining Services’ new approach, which was implemented at the beginning of the academic year, pivots around a more natural process: quality ingredients, in-house preparation, and scratch cooking, as Mr. Zanie described it. The staff has even been encouraged to showcase their new style to the dining audience, slicing vegetables and tossing pizza dough just behind the glass screens of the Marketplace for all to see. Mr. Zanie explained that what matters is not the variety of soups available, for example, but that the soups offered are diligently prepared with freshness and savory flavors in mind. This new outlook requires a greater effort on the part of the staff, with time and quantity constraints that didn’t exist before. Although entirely in-house preparations and cooking have replaced facile bag-opening and baking, the acquisition of raw ingredients and foods has significantly decreased the amount of storage space for the variety of alternative meals. In this sense, a tradeoff has been made.
Café 77 has adopted a change in ordering style, along with a new emphasis on fresher food. Stumbling up to the counter to order whatever delicious concoction you can imagine now takes on a different form. Slips of paper lying on the countertop entail options of numerous ingredients. In marking off your favorites, you are now able to easily create a sandwich, salad, or snack that satisfies your cravings. Even if you aren’t much of a sandwich person and would rather grab something quick to go, you can take advantage of the sushi now offered. In fact, around seventy boxes of sushi are sold each day, not surprising considering that they are delivered daily from Matsumoto, a popular sushi bar downtown. Though pricey, sushi of that caliber is difficult to find elsewhere in little Lexington.
Just as in previous years, the co-op continues to provide a social dining experience for the late night crowd. The biggest change in this regard, Zanie indicates, is efficiency. To everyone’s joy, the long lines and wait times have decreased dramatically. Along with the typical late night crowd, athletes who often miss Dining Hall dinner have flocked to the co-op in greater crowds this athletic season. With sushi and more nutritious, protein-rich options available, these athletes benefit immensely from the increased dinner-time stock that is brought in largely with them in mind.
Looking down the road, we should expect to see some of the focus shifting towards dining in the imminent third-year housing structure. Though these plans remain theoretical and are open to suggestion, Mr. Zanie expressed that what we may see is a combo of cafeteria and pub. Building a campus bar to serve alcoholic drinks to students of age is certainly something to look forward to, but so is the prospect of a cafeteria based on a rotational eating experience. It may, for instance, pose as an Italian kitchen for one semester, a Mexican grill for another, and a Western tavern for the last. Such a concept comes as a consequence of another space constraint, with only a certain amount of room available for a dining area. This new setup would of course have the largest impact on the juniors of the given year, but students of all ages would be able to take advantage of it, with Mr. Zanie keen to note that the room may well overlook Wilson Field.
Another important future goal for Dining Services is to simplify the array of meal plans currently offered, most of which are ambiguously named and make actually selecting a meal plan difficult. The proposed alternative is to offer only a few meal plans, all of which would simply be described by a number: the amount of meals you plan to eat on campus each week. This modification could reward fraternity members the most, as they would be able to easily integrate a meal plan into their diet as a supplement to fraternity cooking.
In light of a recent rumor that W&L aims eventually to replace our beloved fraternity chefs with a school-run dining plan, we asked Mr. Zanie to comment on its validity, to which he replied, “There is no plan, and there have been no discussions between dining services and any of the fraternities to create one.” He did note, however, that he would remain open to such a discussion, but that individual fraternities would have to strike up the conversation themselves.