The gaucho tradition of South America is alive and well in colleges and universities here in the U.S.
The gauchos of the South American pampas—the open grasslands of Argentina, Uruguay, Chile and southern Brazil—were the itinerant “cowboys” of the region, with all the romance and bravado attached to their legend.
“In the olden days, the gauchos lived off the land, cooking whatever animals they could catch or kill over open fires,” says Kari Glebe, manager of the new Wiley Dining Court at Purdue University, which is scheduled to open in mid-2008. Glebe has been researching South American-style barbecued meats for a signature station in the food court.
The pampas is still one of the world’s major suppliers of beef, and its people still eat a lot of grilled and barbecued meats, called asado in Argentina and churrasco in Brazil. Traditional South American barbecue usually consists of some cut of steak—from fancy tenderloin or sirloin to flavorful flank—but it may also include pork, lamb, chicken, turkey and/or sausages. These proteins are usually seasoned with a spice rub or marinade. They may be served with a sauce such as chimichurri, the pesto-like blend of chopped fresh parsley, oregano, garlic, onion, salt, pepper and paprika mixed with olive oil and perhaps vinegar, which is as ubiquitous in parts of South America as ketchup is in the U.S.
Long after the gauchos essentially had passed into history, cities became home to restaurants specializing in grilled meats, called rodizio or churrascarias. These Brazilian-style steakhouses have since come to the United States, with chains such as Fogo de Chão, Rodizio Grill and Texas de Brazil, where waiters circle the dining room with skewers of different meats, carving them tableside in an all-you-can eat parade of protein.
It was this aspect of abundance and variety that appealed to Glebe, who had seen a churrasco grill in use several years ago at the Rialto Dining Center at the University of Northern Iowa. She researched the concept, visiting a Rodizio Grill in Indianapolis, which, like many of its competitors, also offers an extensive salad bar featuring salad components and prepared salads.
Christened Churrascaria, the grill at Purdue will feature a multi-level gas-fired grill with 18 motorized spits containing different meats, as well as a selection of serve-yourself prepared salads and side dishes. Positioned behind a glass wall, so that customers can see the cooks carving various meats onto platters, Churrascaria will be the centerpiece of the new 500-seat Wiley Dining Court, which will also feature a stone hearth pizza oven, salad station, made-to-order quesadillas and other foods, a grill area with barbecue and smoker, and the usual classic foods and deli venues.
“We’re calling it Churrascaria because we felt this was an educational opportunity,” says Glebe, adding that members of the student advisory committee who’ve been told about the concept are really excited about the possibilities. “Years ago, when we added a Mongolian grill, we didn’t call it that, and when the trend really heated up we couldn’t capitalize on it. I think the churrasco concept is going to really hit big, and we want to be there when it does.”
At the University of Northern Iowa, where a 24-spit churrasco grill has been in place for three years, Rialto Dining Center General Manager Lisa Krausman is “having a lot of fun” experimenting with foods on the grill.
“You get such a great quality of roasted meat, and it tastes and smells delicious,” says Krausman. “We may not have been completely authentic with it, but the technique works well.” In Iowa, beef and pork tenderloin are always popular, but a surprise favorite has been pineapple with cinnamon and sugar, especially at breakfast and brunch.
“We tend to use the grill only on weekends when we have smaller meal counts,” adds Krausman, “because it’s too popular for us to be able to meet demand on busy weeknights. The grill is part of the facility’s Cornucopia homestyle cooking station, where there is always an oven-roasted carved meat in addition to sandwiches, casseroles and other comfort foods. “The churrasco grill is a great way to extend the popularity of a carved meat program,” she notes.
But you don’t have to have a churrasco grill to tap into the appeal of South American foods and flavors. The Olin Dining Hall menu at Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering in Needham, Mass., features a number of Latin-style specials on its cycle menu, including Brazilian pork ribs and Brazilian chicken with chimichurri sauce.
Indeed, chimichurri might well become the next “it” sauce. “It’s very versatile and flavorful,” says Willie Sng, executive chef at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Sng used the sauce to marinate chicken breast and grilled flank steak for sandwiches offered in box lunches at this spring’s undergraduate commencement.
Marinated in the sauce for four to six hours, the meats were then grilled and served on sundried tomato bread with baby Bibb lettuce, sliced tomatoes, roasted red and yellow peppers, caramelized onions, and creamy Asiago mayonnaise—an altogether cross-cultural combination of flavors and ingredients.
“It was a big hit, and I plan to add chimichurri meats to the new cycle menu,” says Sng. “Students are very interested in those flavors.”
THE STREETS OF BRAZIL
Carnivale in Idaho becomes a big hit with students.
“We do whatever we can to keep our customers interested,” says Matt Caldwell, general manager at Albertson College of Idaho, a Bon Appetit Management account in Caldwell, Idaho. Thus, Caldwell’s team is always dreaming up special events like the Brazilian barbecue feast, the latest in a series of year-end “Eat Me BBQ” themed menus.
“Every year we pick a different country and make a big deal about it,” says Caldwell. “We create a menu around the traditions, print up T-shirts, research the culture—the whole thing.”
Mauricio Both, a native Brazilian student who is an active member of the food committee, suggested doing a Brazilian theme and volunteered to do a lot of legwork, even contributing family recipes.
“We did a lot of research to make the menu and the event as authentic as possible,” says Caldwell. The school’s green was turned into a Carnivale-inspired street scene, including vendors “selling” food, replete with tiki torches and other festive appointments. “Brazil is famous for its street food, and lent itself really well to the vendor motif,” says Caldwell. “It was very well-received. About 450 people attended, including six Brazilians, who said they loved it.”
The ambitious, 16-item menu included a number of authentic Brazilian specialties, including the Brazilian barbecue dish known as churrasco (assorted meats, marinated and seasoned simply with olive oil, sea salt, garlic and parsley), and feijoada, the hearty black bean and meat stew that is considered the national dish of Brazil.
“It was delicious, probably my favorite thing,” says Caldwell, who was able to find a source for the manioc, or cassava root flour, that is a served as an accompaniment to this elaborate dish. “Of course, you can’t go wrong with lots of beans and pork.” A traditional feijoada also is served with rice, collard greens and sliced oranges.
A number of menus items from the event have made their way onto the regular menu, which changes with the seasons. Feijoada is served as part of the daily soup program, and the grilled meats also have gone over well.
“We serve churrasco as a special in the grill area, and that’s always very popular,” says Caldwell, who lauds the fresh, tasty, simple flavors of this style of cooking. “South American food is very meat-intensive, and there are not a lot of different ingredients to get lost in—just good meat with sea salt and olive oil.”
The favorite is sirloin tip folded into a U-shape and threaded onto a skewer, brushed with olive oil and salt, and cooked on the charbroiler. “We like to serve it with chimichurri.”
Chicken also becomes more popular when it’s treated to the churrasco technique: “They love it when we marinate it for 24 hours in olive oil, sea salt and garlic,” Caldwell says.
“We also use Argentinean style grilling techniques, which are similar to Brazilian, but a bit more complex, with more herbs. And we serve an Argentinean sausage, which is similar to chorizo, in omelets and grilled with vegetables.
“South American food is really underappreciated,” adds Caldwell. “The flavors are very clean, natural and simple, and I can say to any one who has never tried it: It’s a great way to broaden your horizons.”—JL
SAY IT WITH FOOD
Bucknell offers ethnic dining not often found in the rural community.
At Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa., students are treated to a real dose of authentic ethnic food, thanks to Parkhurst Dining Services executive chef Brian Ritchie, who takes an active role in soliciting ideas and recipes from the school’s international students. Ritchie is committed to producing meals that are as authentic as possible—he even makes “field trips” to neighboring New Jersey and plies the Internet to find sources for exotic ingredients that he can’t get in rural Pennsylvania.
“Multiculturalism is very important to us here at Bucknell, and we work very closely with the Director of Multicultural Students to offer theme menus relating to cultural history and heritage months like Hispanic Heritage (mid-September to mid-October), Native American (November), Black History (February) and Asian (May).
The Hispanic Heritage program has been especially interesting to me because I was born in Texas and grew up on Tex-Mex classics like enchiladas and chili. But because I went away to college in San Francisco I’ve been exposed to more and more authentic Hispanic foods, where the menu wasn’t even in English. And I’ve worked with cooks from all over South America and learned from them.
Since Bucknell is in a farm area and we have students from all over the world, there are not a lot of places off-campus to have authentic or traditional ethnic food. Besides, all students want authenticity nowadays—you can’t get away with fake curry made with curry powder or a taco bar as ‘ethnic food.’
We have a great relationship with the Multicultural department, and that’s been very important to being able to offer more authentic dining experiences. Before I got here two years ago, the events were outsourced. But now our team knows how to make the real ethnic specialties because we listen to and learn from the students. We have about 500 foreign-born students here, and they’re very active in the organization and serve as a great resource.
For Hispanic Heritage Month we (have done) a special full theme menu in the café. The first year we did it we served Cuban roast pork, a fresh ham that was marinated in a ridiculous amount of garlic for three days, along with oregano, cider vinegar, salt and pepper, and then roasted very slowly and served with orange mojo potatoes. The next day we served the pork in a traditional Cuban sandwich, so we got a double bang for the buck.
This year we went more toward the Argentinean theme, like grilled flank steak with chimichurri sauce—we roast the garlic and chiles to tone down the heat a little—and real chiles rellenos, using individual stuffed fresh chiles. We do these as a casserole in the cafeteria and get a great response from the students.
The theme menus are a great way to experiment with new recipes and menu concepts. We have some other Latin items on the regular menu, like plantains fried on the grill, which are very popular as a side item, and plantains that are stuffed with seasoned pork and baked. For catering, we make these as individual scooped-out boats, but when you’re serving 1,500 people you have to simplify it into more of a casserole.
My best advice when developing theme menus is to work closely with students or employees who grew up with this kind of food and know how it should taste. But don’t be afraid of serving an authentic ethnic meal to the general population. Everybody’s interested in that kind of experience now.”