This year, the University’s dining halls are adopting a “street foods” concept program based on the offerings of local food trucks.
Yale Dining staff chose 12 items, which will rotate on Tuesday and Thursday nights, over the summer through tastings, drawing inspiration from popular food trucks on campus. They settled on dishes that include four pastas, a French dip sandwich, chicken skewers and fish tacos. Yale Dining employees classified as “cook’s helpers” will prepare them using sautée pans on newly installed stovetops, replacing all of the char broilers, the grills previously used to cook items like burgers. Some cooks have expressed concern about the safety and limitations of stovetops, but Director of Residential Dining Cathy Van Dyke said the program represents a win-win for both students and dining hall workers.
“On street food days, students can enjoy dishes prepared in front of them,” she said. “Our cook’s helpers usually do grilling, but one of the messages we’ve been hearing is they want to do more cooking to prepare for more advanced positions. And now they can.”
Van Dyke added that all cook’s helpers received training last week in preparation for their more advanced roles, and Director of Culinary Excellence Ron DeSantis said the workers have remained enthusiastic throughout the development process.
Kia Reed, a cook’s helper for Davenport College, said she is excited about the concept program. It provides a change of pace, she said, and allows for students to try new dishes.
But Audrey Martineau, a cook’s helper for Berkeley College, said that because the specialty dishes will be prepared by pan — which accommodates less food than the char broilers — students would face substantial wait times. Though she expects students to ultimately benefit from the new street foods program, she added that the char broiler served a valuable purpose each day. Further, she said the newly installed stovetops are somewhat dangerous.
“Today was my first time using the new equipment and I almost caught on fire because the oil and the chicken just flamed up,” she said. “And right now we don’t have more than two pans for the stove, so that’s challenging — fitting as much as we can into two pans.”
Yale Dining staff said char broilers were removed both to facilitate this change and to increase energy efficiency. According to DeSantis, the char broilers consumed large amounts of energy, tended to reach high temperatures and were difficult to clean.
Silliman chef Stu Comen said he did not find the char broilers to be particularly useful, adding that they created accumulations of grease that were expensive to remove.
“[Char broilers] are basically super energy hogs,” Van Dyke said. “To get them up to temperature, they’re running constantly, and they keep running with two burgers or no burgers. In terms of culinary equipment, the stovetops are much more flexible, and in terms of energy savings: huge.”
DeSantis said the new street foods concept program should create memorable dining experiences for students — the mission of Yale Dining. He added that the inflexible char broilers had to be replaced in order to make that possible, because they do not have the flexibility needed to create a wide range of menu items.
All 13 students surveyed said they were excited to try the street foods, though more than half said they would not be willing to wait on long lines to receive them.
Monica McDonough ’19 said the concept appeals to her and that she enjoys food trucks, adding that as a freshman, she was impressed the dining staff would take the time and initiative to try something new.
But while Kate Flanders ’18 said the street foods concept sounds good in theory, she worried it might prove to be a disappointment to students.
“I like the idea and it’s great that they want to shake up the menu, but with the amount of people that just want to go in for a quick meal, I don’t know if they’ll be willing to wait for made to order items,” she said. “I probably wouldn’t wait if there is a significant line, because after crew practice I’m always trying to eat quickly.”