More than 15 of Yale’s top chefs yesterday said they believe that food quality and quantity has declined in recent years because Aramark Foods Inc., the principal provider of food products for the residential college dining halls, has overzealously cut costs.

The cooks, along with local union representatives Bob Proto and Antony Dugdale, addressed a crowd consisting of a reporter, two photographers and a couple of curious students in the Woolsey Hall rotunda yesterday afternoon to articulate their problems with Aramark and the University. The disgruntled chefs said that since the fall of 1998, when Yale hired food service giant Aramark to handle the University’s dining services, the quality and variety of food has declined dramatically.

The University’s labor contract with the union, Local 35, which includes dining hall chefs, expires in January 2002. Cooks said Aramark’s cost-cutting practices and the resulting decline in food quality are a point of contention for dining service employees.

“In its 300th [year], Yale says [workers and the University] are a partnership,” Calhoun College second cook Kenneth Brown said. “[University administrators] have to ask themselves if they’re really working toward that goal. We want the good life back.”

The chefs said they believe in Aramark’s efforts to cut costs and make a profit, but the company is sacrificing the quality of food served in the dining halls.

“[Aramark] is now looking at the bottom line,” Brown said. “Their bottom line may look good, but their overall quality is crap.”

Yale Dining Services director David Davidson, who is employed by Aramark, said he does not believe Aramark’s for-profit policy affects food quality or variety.

“We pay a lot of money for our product,” Davidson said. “It’s good quality product.”

The cooks met with executive chef John Turenne Feb. 8 to discuss their problems after they met with Proto.

Berkeley College first chef Mike Schoen, who has worked at Yale for over 20 years, said he believes the problem with Aramark and its food products is threefold.

“[The chefs] have seen quality of food decline and choices in food decline as well as portions,” Schoen said.

But for some cooks, the quality of food does not merit the price students must pay to consume it.

“[The students] are getting robbed,” chef “Reverend” Williams said. “For what [the students] pay to go here, [the students] should be getting a higher product.”

Shrimp and spring rolls are some of the items eliminated from the menu, Brown said.

Six-ounce portions of chicken have been replaced with four-ounce portions, and five-ounce portions of chicken have been replaced with three-ounce portions. White meat chicken and flank steak in the form of London broil have been eliminated from the menu entirely, Brown said.

But Davidson said smaller portions do not indicate a decrease in quality.

“Whether it’s five ounces or three ounces, students can have as much as they want,” Davidson said.

In a fall 2000 survey of students and faculty who patronize the dining halls, the only significant category that dropped from 1999 to 2000 was the consistency of taste. Freshmen and sophomores, who have not experienced the dining halls before Aramark took over, made up 55.2 percent of the survey, and only 35.9 percent of the students surveyed ate at Yale dining halls before Aramark took over in 1998, according to the survey.

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