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Dining hall menus are planned months in advance with signature ingredients, sustainability in mind

By Carolyn McGough and Daniel Schonhaut

Feb. 23, 2010 11:31 p.m.

Alex Macias throws open the doors to the De Neve commissary, revealing a back area in which the signature products of UCLA Dining Services are created and distributed.

Behind the doors, dozens of employees dart between steel machines. A wall of revolving plates leads to a room filled with chopped and ground meat, shoveled into boxes for safe keeping.

One staff member in white chef’s garb monitors a giant, bowl-shaped device that churns dough. He runs across the room to another machine that is used to fill cookies, doughnuts and pot pies, according to Macias, the area manager for Dining Services in De Neve Plaza.

More than 57 food vendors supply raw ingredients to Dining Services. Products are shipped to each of the dining locations, and from there are prepared into meals and served to students ““ 19,000 of whom flock to the dining halls daily.

The 36,000 square-foot De Neve facility is the center of the dining operation and produces sauces, breads and pastries that are shipped to other locations.

By designating a central facility, Dining Services has been able to shrink production space elsewhere, controlling cost and standardizing quality, Macias said.

“We make our own barbecue sauce,” he said, giving an example of an original product perfected over the years by dining staff. “It’s pretty good,” he added, grinning broadly and giving a thumbs up.

Dining Services spends $11 million on food products each year, serving 5.2 million meals at a cost of $2 per swipe.

Those meals are crafted by a team of chefs supervised by Roger Pigozzi, the head chef on the Hill.

Before joining UCLA’s team, Pigozzi worked at the Biltmore Hotel downtown for 14 years, as well as at the Hilton and Hyatt hotel groups. The closest operation to UCLA’s dining halls, Pigozzi said, was at the Pentagon, where he was an executive chef for two years and helped to generate 22,000 meals a day.

UCLA’s executive chefs plan out menus months in advance and come together once a quarter for a six-hour brainstorming session. Recipes and cookbooks are strewn across a dining hall table and scrutinized, Pigozzi said.

“Then we just start cranking out the menus,” he said. “Based on meeting with senior management, we talk about ingredients.”

Those menus are tested and later added to a large database that stores thousands of recipes.

“(Each quarter) we have a certain amount of new things, but a lot (of recipes) are tried and true,” said Daryl Ansel, food and beverage director for UCLA Housing and Hospitality.

Once recipes are selected, employees acquire ingredients, more than 2,000 of which are used by Dining Services. The job of purchasing these ingredients falls on Patricia Reyes, Housing and Hospitality’s buyer supervisor.

Once specifications for ingredients are decided on, Reyes works to obtain them at the lowest possible price. Considerations such as food quality and environmental impact of products are also made.

UC-wide policy calls for 75 percent of food waste to be diverted by 2012, and 100 percent to be diverted by 2020.

“We’re approaching 2012 rapidly and are working to make sure this all happens,” said Sustainability Coordinator Robert Gilbert.

At Café 1919, almost everything is compostable or recyclable. Only the chip bag is not, and Dining Services is looking for a replacement, Gilbert said. Currently, 62.4 tons of waste are generated monthly across all dining locations, including composting and recycling.

Gilbert’s current project is to increase the number of organic and local menu items, with a goal of finding products available within 100 miles of campus.

In accordance with UC policy, Dining Services is also working to certify a green restaurant. Though the contract is currently in development, Rendezvous has been cited as a likely candidate, he said.

Looking forward, Ansel said the main goal is to expand dining service and renovate existing facilities.

In January, Rieber dining hall closed for $6 million in renovations. Housing and Hospitality also plans to build a new dining facility at Sproul that will serve 750 additional students at a time.

By consistently renovating each dining hall, Dining Services hopes to keep student attraction equal among each restaurant.

Dining expansion is driven by an overarching plan to move more students to the Hill, Ansel said. When the $375 million housing construction project is completed in 2013, Dining Services needs to be ready.

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Carolyn McGough
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