A Sodexo analysis of food trends on college campuses recently found that UC Davis students tend to like locally grown food with authentic, ethnic flavor.
Sodexo, which manages food service at UCD and 599 other campuses across the nation, compiled its list based off data acquired by several groups. Included were Sodexo’s Student Board of Directors, Nielsen’s Annual Restaurant Audit and Sodexo’s culinary team of chefs and vendor partners, according to the analysis.
“The list is classic with a twist,” said Linda Adams, dietician and sustainability director for UC Davis’ Sodexo branch. “Lists like this help us add meals, but students say if it works. Our program is very, very student driven and on a local level.”
Courtney Hom, an undeclared first-year student, said her own preferences mirror the national trends.
“I love the Sante Fe chicken salad. The flavors of the chicken and dressing make you feel like there’s a party in your mouth,” Hom said.
Sarah Walsh, a first-year animal science major and dining commons patron, said she too is a fan.
“[My favorite dish is] the Santa Fe salad because it’s healthy and really delicious,” Walsh said in an e-mail interview. “I love salad, especially when there’s chicken in it.”
Of the meals projected to be popular in 2010, Santa Fe salad did not make the cut. Number one was apricot-glazed turkey, followed by meatloaf with frizzle-fried onions. Neither of these dishes are currently served at the UCD dining commons.
Stacy Kim, first-year undeclared, said she prefers the less ethnic food options.
“The shrimp burrito tastes disgusting,” Kim said. “But dessert pizza. It’s dessert and pizza in one. How can it get better than that?”
Timothy Pang, a first-year engineering major, said he too was not impressed by the more creative options.
“My favorite dish is the tater tots. They’re crunchy,” Pang said. “But the ‘pad-thai’ … yes, it gets food in my stomach. But it tastes nothing like it is supposed to.”
Walsh agreed with the lack of authenticity.
“The Italian-themed dinner was horrific,” she said. “As an Italian, this food was far from the original taste.”
Though the students said they did not see the food as true to its roots, Andy Burtis, the campus executive chef for Sodexo, said he is aware this is what diners are looking for.
“We have a lot of Bay Area people who are exposed to all types of ethnic food, especially Asian, but lately Mexican,” Burtis said. “They have been to restaurants by people who know how to make Mexican food, so that’s what they like.”
UC Davis is also trying to draw attention to in-season and locally grown produce. Adams said that though they continue to offer international fruits and vegetables, there are efforts being made – such as signs above the melon- to raise awareness of the resources it takes to import it from out of the country.
Though Sodexo does provide a corporate menu, dishes are chosen by Burtis and other campus chefs, whose recipes are tested and approved based on taste and practicality.
“The process takes feedback from everyone. Nothing can go on the menu unless it’s tested through the formal process. And it’s failsafe. The author doesn’t decide if it’s good or not,” Burtis said.
In addition, Burtis said he reads through comment cards and surveys to look for remarks that may be reflective of the average customer’s tastes.
“Dishes aren’t really removed because of student input… There is too much of a screening process for us to do that. But the menu is constantly changing,” Adams said.
Adams said a vegan and vegetarian council made up of students helps keep chefs aware of special dietary needs.
“That’s where the Vegan Corner came from,” Adams said. “We also have the eco-food core, which has 300 members, all students on campus, who are interested in working on food programs. We’re always looking to get students involved.”
BECKY PETERSON can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.