The Big Idea: Ethnic Comfort Food

Yale University redesigned its menus to focus on authentic comfort foods from around the globe.

Ron DeSantis
Director of Culinary Excellence
Yale University, New Haven, Conn.

We’re looking at our fall menu as we are really revolutionizing campus cuisine. One of our key objectives is celebrating the diversity of the student population through food. We’ve got students from across the globe. So a big part of redesigning the menu is incorporating more of those great global flavors so that we have bold tastes that are interesting. The idea is that you can have comfort foods no matter where you’re from. That means those classic American foods will be there as well. We want students to have great comfort foods and that brings us right into the global impact of big flavors.

This new approach to our menu is much more focused. Each menu day will have a little bit more of a theme to it in terms of the flavors highlighted. If it’s a Mediterranean day, the flavor profile through lunch and dinner will have Mediterranean flavors. We’re not mixing cuisines on the same day because it gets confusing for your palate. We’re really taking a look at what are the authentic dishes that we can provide so that students who are from other parts of the world will feel good and have some excitement about their food.

The main menu focuses are going to be Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Asian, Latin and classic American. Then throughout the year we’ll still have theme dinners where we get to showcase cuisines that are not as well known, like Persian. The process starts with a matrix that shows us what we are looking for in terms of food items. We know we like to have a couple of soups, some center-of-the-plate entrées and always vegetarian and vegan items. Once we know what we need we have a formal ideation session with our chefs where we ask what are some of the favorites that are out there? What are the things we didn’t explore? We make sure we hit all the different parts of the menu we need to. Then we make sure we are staying focused on our commitment to health and wellness in terms of using seasonal sustainable foods. That’s an overarching goal for everything we do. Then it’s a matter of rolling up our sleeves and working through those menu items to make sure we hit all the global aspects.

We just developed 30 new recipes for this project. We created things as simple as crimini mushroom and potato soup and as unique as Mexico City chicken and chipotle sandwiches. One really big home run was a sweet potato and quinoa burger. We’ve probably got another 160 to 170 items coming up in front of us that we’re continuing to do. It’s a matter of the team of chefs coming together and putting the ingredients down and giving each other some brutally honest feedback.  

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