Students may find Southern fried chicken next to Korean BBQ tofu tacos in dining halls this year as a part of a new Yale Dining menu that packages complementary flavors from different cultures.
In designing the new menu, Director of Culinary Excellence Ron DeSantis, who joined the Yale Dining team last year, said in an email that he is striving to provide healthy and delicious food that provides the comfort of a home-cooked meal for students of all backgrounds. As part of the menu’s new emphasis on preparing vegetables that will appeal to students, two in-season vegetable dishes will be available at lunch and dinner.
“By offering interesting vegetables, prepared in appetizing ways, we can create interest in this food category,” he said, praising vegetables and grains for making food “exciting” by providing “the most diverse flavor, texture, color and nutrition.”
One of the two vegetable dishes will be steamed, and the other will be grilled, roasted or sautéed, DeSantis said, and the vegetable selection will depend on what is in season. This strategy is similar to one used by restaurants, he said, rather than most large dining halls.
Another addition in some of the dining halls is fruit-infused water, called “spa water” by DeSantis, which he said is intended to encourage students to find healthier alternatives to “sugary carbonated sodas.”
Though it is still early in the year, DeSantis said initial feedback has been “positive.” While 11 students interviewed were not aware of the specific changes, five said they felt the quality of food has improved this year, while the others said the food seems to have remained the same. Rushika Pattni ’15 said that she has seen an increase in the amount of fresh fruit and vegetables available in Saybrook this year.
“I’m a vegetarian, and I’m a lot more satisfied with the options this year. There used to be much less variety,” she said.
Along with the menu changes, some of residential dining halls have rearranged the layouts of their serveries. The reconfiguration in Branford, for example, was meant to improve the flow of students through the servery and make fresh fruit and salad toppings more visible and accessible, DeSantis said.
The redesigns have not been met with universal enthusiasm, however. Angie Hanawa ’15 said the new layout in Stiles is “confusing,” while Shefali Jain ’12 said the new configuration in Pierson has been “frustrating” to figure out.
“Nothing is where it is supposed to be!” Jain said.
But the redesigns are not set in stone. Branford Master Elizabeth Bradley MPH ’95 GRD ’96 said the improvement process began last spring when she invited any interested Branford students to a focus group last spring with DeSantis and Yale Dining Executive Director Rafi Taherian. The 10 to 12 students who came to the meeting brainstormed various ways to improve the Branford dining hall, such as removing trays, having hamburgers available at every lunch and dinner and reducing traffic around the soda machine.
“My experience so far is that it’s improved so much,” Bradley said. “I don’t think we’re done at all. I think it’s going to get better and better.”
DeSantis is one of 67 certified master chefs in the United States.