Yale Dining sees fresh initiatives

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Photo by Wa Liu.

Though summer may have been a break for students, it remained a busy season for Yale Dining, both inside and outside the kitchen.

While catering for commencement and class reunions and providing summer food service to students on campus for Yale Summer Session and other programs, Yale Dining emphasized fresh, locally grown produce this summer. In addition to hosting a weekly farmers’ market on Beinecke Plaza that saw its most successful year yet, the Yale Dining team opened a Culinary Support Center on Winchester Avenue, which has allowed Yale Dining to be more centralized and use more sustainable ingredients.

When crafting menus for YSS meals and special events this year, Executive Director of Yale Dining Rafi Taherian said Yale Dining aimed to use as many fresh ingredients as possible to take advantage of the fact that more locally grown produce is available over the summer. In the Connecticut region, farms experience a short growing season that largely takes place when the University is not in session, he said.

“Each year [over the summer] we build on our menu successes and enhance the areas that need our attention,” Taherian said.

Director of Supply Management and Sustainability Gerry Remer said although it was previously logistically difficult for local farmers to deliver directly to Yale, the new Culinary Support Center, which opened in August, has facilitated the use of locally sourced food.

For example, the CSC allows Yale Dining to more easily incorporate local produce in special occasion menus because local farmers no longer have to deliver food to 14 different dining hall locations. Remer noted that Yale recently purchased 1000 pounds of tomatoes from a farm in Woodbridge, Conn. that were first picked by Yale freshmen and then later served at the freshman dinners.

Yale Dining representatives said the CSC has also enabled Yale Dining to be much more efficient with cold food production.

“Consolidating cold food production at CSC reduces redundant tasks of chopping, slicing, mixing and clean-up that otherwise take place at 14 different locations across campus,” read a Yale Dining statement, which Van Dyke provided to the News last month.

Currently, Remer said 55 percent of the produce Yale purchases to serve in dining halls comes from regional growers. This availability will remain constant until mid-October, after which more local produce — such as local corn, green beans and tomatoes — will need to be frozen for use during the winter months, she said. Other produce, such as winter squash, apples, mushrooms and potatoes are available throughout the year from other regions, she added.

Yale Dining not only served fresh produce this summer — it also sold locally grown produce at a weekly “Uncommon Market” outside of Commons on Fridays. The market sold baked goods from the Yale Bakery along with fresh vegetables and fruit.

General Manager of Commons Dining Hall Maureen O’Donnel-Young, who organized the Uncommon Market, said the produce sold ranged from fiddlehead to rhubarb to peas grown locally in Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Jersey or Pennsylvania farms. She added that the market also supported New Haven businesses, including selling bread from local bakery Whole G.

Taherian said this year’s market was so successful that it broke previous years’ sales. Yale Dining also had to double its number of cashiers to keep up with demand, he said.

“Our sole objective for this project was … to be providing access to fresh produce with focus on local and regional producers at a significantly low price,” Taherian said.

He added that since Yale has purchasing power as a large institution, the wholesale savings were then passed onto the consumer.

Customers at the Uncommon market were not the only ones who took notice of Yale Dining’s offerings this summer. In May, the National Association of College & University Food Services honored Yale with the grand prize and gold recognition in the category of large schools for University President Salovey’s Inauguration celebration last fall. Last year, Yale Dining took home the same award for the Freshman Holiday Dinner.

Taherian said Yale Dining aimed to provide top quality meals for the special occasions that took place this summer, including commencement activities and alumni reunions. Over the course of two weekends, Yale Dining was responsible for providing thousands of meals to alumni, which Taherian said his team served in a variety of locations, including inside college courtyards, catering tents and Commons.

The main objective was to make the alumni feel welcome so that they can form memorable experiences during the events, Taherian said.

“Many people have come up to us to share stories about … the amazing time they have had and about the outstanding quality of the food service throughout the weekend,” said Association of Yale Alumni Senior Director for Yale College Classes Karen Jahn.

Still, Taherian noted that despite the large changes to Yale Dining operations during the summer, Yale Dining still scaled down overall operations to seven dining locations on campus and faced lower production needs overall than it does during the academic year. As this happens every summer, Taherian said Yale Dining workers either opt to take time off or will find alternate positions in the University, including with custodial, grounds, maintenance and athletic departments.

Yale Dining operates 23 residential and retail dining operations on campus during the academic year.

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