Friday, May 29

From Concept to Plate

When staff members from UCLA Dining Services looked at the menu for De Neve Late Night, they noticed one glaring omission: the lack of vegan chicken fingers.

Brought to Dining Service’s attention by the policy review board, comprised of On-Campus Housing Council student leaders, the late-night eatery has few options for vegans and vegetarians.

To remedy the situation and provide more vegan possibilities at Late Night, members of UCLA Dining Services decided to go on a field trip.

On Feb. 17, they battled the L.A. rush-hour traffic and made their way to the Veggie Grill on Sunset Boulevard to taste one of the local vegan eatery’s popular menu item: the vegan chicken fingers.

Once at the Veggie Grill, the group of eight, consisting of UCLA students, staff and alumni, discussed the possibilities for introducing more vegan options than just the chicken fingers to Late Night.

In the meantime, UCLA food and beverage director Daryl Ansel ordered four plates of chicken fingers.

Energized by the bright atmosphere of the Veggie Grill, the panel members began their taste tests and took notes.

As they tasted, they were barred from commenting on their opinion of the dish. It was Ansel’s way of ensuring the most unbiased judgment of the product.

Once all members of the group had taken their taste, the discussion began.

As the group members each expressed their opinions of the chicken fingers, members of the Dining Services team wrote down information and asked the group how attractive the item would be for UCLA students.

The consensus on the chicken fingers was overwhelmingly positive among both the vegetarian and non-vegetarian members of the group, indicating the potential popularity the dish could have at Late Night.

“These are going to Hollywood,” said assistant director and corporate chef Roger Pigozzi excitedly.

Meetings like these are the source of inspiration for new recipe items that Dining Services develops for residential quick-service restaurants such as Bruin Café, Rendezvous and Late Night.

By tasting popular meals at other restaurants, Dining Services comes up with concepts for new dishes and then works to adapt the recipes for UCLA dining facilities.

In the past, members of Dining Services have made four similar field trips, including to Monterey Park and Korea Town, to get new ideas for menu items. Rendezvous’ newest menu item, the bibimbap, was created after a trip to Korea Town.

“Korea Town was our inspiration. We took the traditional Korean recipe back to our lab to make it authentic and better,” Ansel said.

The lab, headed by a UCLA recipe developer, has more than 9,000 recipes in its database.

Once Dining Services acquires a recipe from one of these field trips, it takes four to six weeks or longer to take the concept to the plate, according to Pigozzi.

That process can be harder for developing vegan dishes.

For such items, one challenge Dining Services tackles is to develop recipes that are appealing to vegetarian and non-vegetarian students alike.

So, to test their ability to improve upon vegan recipes, Pigozzi, Ansel, and a few other staff members of Dining Services will go vegan for a week.

Their experiment will start on Earth Day ““ April 22.

“I want to come in the next day craving the meat I’m used to and see how satisfied I am with the alternative,” Pigozzi said.

With Earth Day fast approaching, Pigozzi and his peers at Dining Services may soon find out just how good that alternative is.

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