Thursday, March 8, 2012


First change made in the dining hall.

This past week I was hard at work preparing for the indoor track conference meet, trying to balance between hurdle practice and rest for my injured legs. However, I was also in the process of overcoming more figurative hurdles, gluten free dining in my university's dining hall.

During the winter months, I found myself eating in my room more often than not, relying on my pre made meals that I had prepared at home. The dining hall had options for me, but in all honesty I just didn't have the time to wait for my meals to be prepared separately and it was a lot less stressful to eat what I had in my room. Over the winter months, I saw little change in the dining hall.

With spring, comes new hope. Our dining hall has been without an executive chef for several months now, which is part of the reason little change has been made. The operation is in survival mode. The food committee I am on at school, which consists of the dining hall manager, myself, and two other students, has a large role in the changes being made. The manager asked the other two students and I to be a part of the interview process for the new executive chef. He had it narrowed down to two chefs with very impressive backgrounds.

One of the chefs had a background in college dining halls and was more experienced in that respect. The other had owned her own restaurant (with a gluten free menu) and was more artistic with her approach to food. They were pretty much polar opposites, but both had a lot to offer. As part of the interview, the chefs prepared three dishes for us, an appetizer and two entrees. They had the same ingredients to work with (pork and fish) and it was kind of a Chopped-esque challenge. Also, they had the added challenge of making everything gluten free. Long story short, I had two nights of gourmet meals in the dining hall.

The first chef made a salad with a vinaigrette for the appetizer. His fish had lemon and herbs and was served with roasted red potatoes, carrots, and mini squashes. Lastly, his pork had a sweet ginger and sesame glaze and was served over wild rice with the same vegetables as the fish.

The second chef made a cooked spinach salad (after hearing that I could not have raw fruits or veggies) with caramelized red onions, roasted red pepper, and sautéed mushrooms all over fresh mozzarella slices. Her fish had pistachio and mint pesto and was served over wild rice with carrots and zucchini. Her pork was wrapped in bacon and topped with apples in a light caramel sauce with a hint of cinnamon and was served over blue cheese mashed red potatoes, this was the standout dish by far.

Both chefs completed the tasks well, but the first chef's dishes, although good, were almost forgettable compared to the second chef's. I liked the second chef's interest in starting cooking classes and trips to the farmers market and her artful approach to food, but I also liked the first chef's knowledge of dining hall operation and his warm personality.

It was a nice change to have these meals (that I knew were safe) prepared for me, and also a nice break from the piles of homework that all of my professors decided to dump on me before spring break and a good treat after track practice. As someone who would like to eventually go to culinary school, this was a very interesting experience. It was great to see chefs in action and it was very inspiring to see their work. I look forward to getting to work with one of them when they are hired. I feel like I could learn a lot from both.

I will find out who they hired when I get back to school from break. Both candidates had experience preparing gluten free foods and will be helpful in making changes. I hope to get some procedures in place before the end of the semester, which is drawing near. As I reach the home stretch, I'll need to really kick it in and get thing done. These figurative hurdles are far more difficult than the literal ones, but I am sure my hard work will pay off in both.

As for the conference meet, I placed 1st in the 60m hurdles and 2nd in the 60m dash, breaking the school records in both. Now it's time for some much needed rest for my legs before outdoor season begins in two weeks.

Rockin' the ice bags post-race.

For more on my gluten free college dining experience, check out my article on the NFCA website! Also, be sure to read the other article in the series written by other gf college students!

1 comment:

  1. I'm always interested to read about your GF college experience. You and others like you are forging the way for my daughter who I hope will head off to college in five years.

    Congrats on the records and wins!