After meeting and working together in several capacities, Rafi Taherian, director of Yale Dining, invited Joyce Goldstein, chef, author and culinary consultant, to Yale to help train staff. While there Goldstein ate from the salad bar and instantly had suggestions for how Yale could improve that area. Goldstein spoke to FSD about what tweaks she made to Yale’s salad bars to make them a healthier option for students. After meeting and working together in several capacities, Rafi Taherian, director of Yale Dining, invited Joyce Goldstein, chef, author and culinary consultant, to Yale to help train staff. While there Goldstein ate from the salad bar and instantly had suggestions for how Yale could improve that area. Goldstein spoke to FSD about what tweaks she made to Yale’s salad bars to make them a healthier option for students.
How did you first get involved with Yale’s salad bars?
I was working with the CIA in St. Helena at its Mediterranean restaurant when I met and became friends with Rafi. When he worked at Stanford I used to go there and do food seminars with him. The next thing I know he’s at Yale. I am a Yale graduate, so he invited me to visit next time I was in town because he wanted me to work with his staff. So I went up to New Haven to do some training sessions with the pantry cooks. For lunch, Rafi and I were walking along the salad bar and I’m looking at all the stuff that was out there, and I was just thinking this is too much stuff. So after I looked at everything I built a salad out of spinach, beans, beets, olives and feta cheese and made my own dressing and sat down. He saw what I’d done and said, ‘did you see what you did? You made a Greek salad?’ And I said yes I did. He asked why he couldn’t get the students to do that for themselves. I said he could, but you’d have to edit what you put out. So that started us thinking about a change in the salad bar.
What exactly were the changes you made?
We were watching what the kids were putting on the plate. It’s supposed to be healthy dining, and the students were putting together tuna, orange segments and bleu cheese dressing. It was a train wreck of a plate with no thought of flavor. Plus, a lot of food was being wasted because there was just too much being offered. I worked with Rafi and pantry cooks from several of the residential colleges and we did a couple of trials at the freshman dining hall. We didn’t announce that any changes were happening, but we started offering a few composed salads such as a grain salad or a bean salad. We also put out what we called a composed salad, which was a bowl of spinach, a bowl of beets, white beans, marinated onions, feta, olives and mint vinaigrette. We made a simple salad out of those so that the student could see how those ingredients could be used. However, we allowed the students the opportunity to compose the salad themselves out of those ingredients. Another day we offered a Caesar salad with romaine, grated Parmesan and housemade croutons and a good healthy Caesar dressing using puréed white beans instead of eggs and mayo.
What you do is pare down the part where they can assemble the salad. You could offer lettuce or spinach, paired with an appropriate dressing, then offer your tomatoes, cucumbers, feta cheese and olives so they can make their own Greek salad. We definitely wanted to get rid of cottage cheese. I understand that some people want it, but it doesn’t belong in a bowl with lettuce. You don’t want to have raw broccoli, raw cauliflower and raw cabbage out at the same day—only one gassy vegetable at a time. I had a list of what the department was putting out and it just wasn’t balanced. By paring it down, there are a few things you can always count on like nuts, cheese, some raw vegetables and some cooked vegetables. We’re trying to educate their palates. It’s mostly editing. Instead of having 30 items out there, there are maybe 10.
How was the program implemented?
The students loved what we did during the trial period. We offered it three times. They filled out comments cards and told us how much they loved it. We decided to switch to larger plates since the salads were such a hit. After that trial, we decided at some point dining services would institute a new salad bar at Yale where there would always be two fully prepared salads (grain, bean, vegetable), and then one the students assemble out of limited ingredients.
The first thing I said to do was to let the students know why the bottled dressings were being taken away. These dressings were disgusting, just corn syrup and chemicals. So we said just tell them the bottled dressing are going away because they aren’t made with good ingredients and we are going to be making our own dressings. Then I recommended waiting a couple of months to tell them we were going to add some prepared salads to the lineup. You have to do a PR campaign to let the students know that the salad bar was changing. We were thinking the program should be implemented only in the colleges where we had worked with the chefs the most. I didn’t think doing it for all 12 at once was a good idea. It didn’t work out that way because once the pantry chefs heard about it, they all wanted to do it. Every college implemented it at the same time, when not all the cooks were really ready.
Well, the students went berserk because they had no warning that this was coming. They’d say, ‘where is my raw broccoli? Where are the bottled dressings?’ We had some angry bloggers who wanted attention. It was interesting but also unpleasant. However, at the same time, the students were eating these salads. The use of vegetables and grains went up like 30%.
What changes were made after the negative student reaction?
They loved the prepared salads. What they missed was having a bigger selection for the composed salads. So after a few meetings we added a few more things as options. We put out hard-boiled eggs, nuts, cherry tomatoes and carrot sticks. Once we made those changes the outcry all died down and the students love it.
What advice would you give to other operators who might want to do something similar?
First of all communication would be very important. I would also recommend implementing these things in phases. Every school has a different system. Maybe you work with your strongest cooks first and have the other cooks observe. Get the kinks out with the people who are the best trained. Then when you’ve gotten through a whole semester of change, you can introduce it to another couple of locations. I just think doing everything all at once makes you lose control.