Some pandemic pivots are becoming permanent in college and corporate dining venues—at least through 2021.
Grab-and-go will continue to go strong, but the college & university and business & industry chefs on FoodService Director’s Culinary Council are eager to cook outside of the box, too. And they have some surprises in store for students returning to campus and workers returning to offices this fall.
“We have been very focused on refining what we offer and revamping some of our stations,” says Tyler Betzhold, executive chef at the University of Richmond in Virginia. “I am most excited about our traditional Mongolian grill. We’ve added more craveable veggies, such as bok choy and snow peas, and developed custom sauces that embody Asian tastes, including Szechuan, Korean, Thai and Japanese, moving away from ‘American Chinese’ sauces.”
Betzhold plans to feature daily Asian dishes, pairing vegetables and proteins with the appropriate sauces, and has also enhanced the wok station to meet that goal.
But some of the changes incorporated in a year-plus of pandemic-era dining are long lasting, he says. The addition of Grubhub for ordering and delivery is expanding across campus, and trayless dining in the school’s all-you-care-to-eat facility is now permanent.
Pennsylvania State University is proceeding with caution, keeping contingency plans in place in case there’s a return to pandemic-restricted service. Comfort foods will continue to rule on the menu, says Jeff Varcoe, managing chef for Penn State Food Services, but he is rolling out some new items as well.
“One of the new recipes is on trend with plant-forward proteins. We’re using Just Eggs vegan egg substitute to serve a version of Egg Foo Young, but we are calling it ‘Egg Faux Young,’” he says. “It is a vegan dish that I think will satisfy vegans, flexitarians and diners with egg allergies. I’m excited to see how our guests like it.”
Infusing creativity into B&I
Over on the B&I side, it looks like working remotely—at least part-time—will continue into the fall. So chefs in corporate settings are ramping up innovation around food to go.
At BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina, Food Services Manager Lawrence Wright is focusing on creating a more robust grab-and-go program. “This includes nearly doubling our catalog of rotating salads and sandwiches as well as introducing some of our action station items as premade meals,” says Wright. “Additionally, many of these items meet our Corporate Healthy Eating Focus (CHEF) guidelines.”
Iraj Fernando, senior executive chef for Southern Foodservice Management, converted a lot of his culinary classic items to carryout, figuring out how to change the cooking style and package the food to go. “Southern hospitality in a container” is what he calls it. Caesar salad with blackened chicken or salmon, for example, used to be made to order on the line; now it’s packed in a takeout container, he says.
He is also working on new catering options, transforming the trays of old into individual portions in cups.
While full-service dining is still popular in some Southern Foodservice locations, such as factories and plants, the company introduced a new micro-market concept called Truehouse that is rolling out to many of its accounts as they reopen.
Truehouse will have a rotating selection of boxed meals and carryout food. “The difference now is that the chef is preparing the grab-and-go options, not just the lowest member on the foodservice team,” says Fernando.