Culinary Inspires Design at Rice U.

Aug. 21—With a roof garden, natural burgers and LEED standard design, a new dining facility at 5,000-student Rice University in Houston is ready to wow new and returning students. David McDonald, dining services director, said his culinary staff heavily influenced the building’s design.

“Because of the strength of our culinary team [the team has 13 ACF certified chefs, seven of whom were certified this past year] and the fact that they had so many years of experience, the team sat down with the designers and told them what worked and what didn’t,” McDonald said. “The chefs gave input on everything from the salad bar to the design of the storeroom, including the type of equipment and the brand. The new Wood Stone pizza oven was a big one. Since we have our own bakery, we make our own pizza dough, and we had been using pass through pizza ovens but the Wood Stone is going to open up a bunch of doors to making our own Focaccia and flatbreads.”

McDonald says another new feature this year will be all-natural Angus beef hamburgers.

“I decided to take Rice on the course of doing things from a wellness standpoint,” McDonald said. “We’re looking at every one of our products and seeing how we can make it healthier. The good news is that we were already about 90% scratch-made kitchens anyway. But that 10% of frozen stuff included hamburger patties and it gets scary with all the stuff that’s in them. So we looked at natural beef patties and we saw that the premade ones are outrageously expensive. But if I bring in whole beef and grind and form the patties ourselves, then we can break even.”

As for the actual design of the new facility, McDonald says the department brought in a European architect to design a classical building with lots of brickwork. Rice uses a “college” system, so students live and eat together. The new servery serves two dorms and about 700 students.

“The kitchen itself is state of the art,” McDonald said. “We’re using all Vulcan equipment including blast chillers and combi ovens and our focal point of this servery is the Wood Stone pizza oven. The servery is a hot line, pizza station, salad bar, dessert and beverage stations. So it’s a mixture of a scatter system and a buffet style. It’s self-service and all-you-care-to-eat. It’s also set up for display cooking and we do that occasionally.”

The design also strived to be environmentally responsible, such as using no floor coverings in the kitchen and servery.

“The kitchen and servery have unfinished floors so its just concrete,” McDonald said. “Not using floor coverings was part of LEED standards because it saves money and doesn’t do anything to contribute wrongly to the environment. The building also has a rooftop garden that we hope to use to grow herbs eventually. Right now we’re still hammering away at the safety concerns for food up there, so it’s just used to help cool the building.”