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Making food traditions work for today's consumer

Step into any of Florida State University’s three dining halls on a Friday and you’ll be met with a line that is often 30 to 40 guests deep. Since before the current dining team can remember, Honey Fried Chicken Fridays have been a popular weekly routine for Florida State students, as well as the surrounding Tallahassee community.

“You’ve got to get there early, or you’ve got to be patient because it’s that popular,” says Scott Bryan, public relations specialist for Seminole Dining. 

While FSU’s famous honey fried chicken has been on the menu for years, chefs recently tweaked the list of ingredients. The honey used for the beloved menu item is now being sourced locally from a farm about 40 minutes outside campus. 

The switch to locally sourced honey is just one example of how operators are changing up their longstanding food traditions to meet the needs of the modern consumer.

Famous fried chicken

fried chicken

Although honey fried chicken has been served at FSU’s Figg Performance Table, one of the school’s three dining halls, for years, the chicken gained national attention last year when then-football recruit Marvin Wilson commented on how good the menu item is in an interview with ESPN.

“I was like, that sounds suspect, so I grabbed one piece,” Wilson told the cable network. “I finished that one piece of chicken. I went and grabbed the whole pan, and put it on the table, and we killed that whole pan of honey fried chicken. That’s probably the best fried chicken I’ve ever had.”

“At that point it kind of just blew up,” says Executive Chef Travis Johnson. “We had been doing it and it was always this tradition, but it gained some national recognition. Every time recruits come to campus now, we do recruit meals, and honey fried chicken is always on the menu and everyone gets excited about it.”

The dish was soon expanded to the school’s two other residential dining halls, where it continues to be one of the most popular items on the menu. When the school began its Adopt a Farm program last year, the team saw an opportunity to make the dish even more relevant.

“We hear a lot from our students about how they want local products, how they want things to be sustainable,” Bryan says. “We have multiple sustainability groups on campus.”

The school partnered with Full Moon Apiary in nearby Monticello, Fla., to source 30 gallons of honey each month for use in all menu items—including its famous fried chicken.

“We thought, ‘How can we take something that is already amazing to the next level?’” Johnson says, adding that Full Moon will also share news of the partnership with farm visitors. “They’ll say that this is the honey that’s used on the honey fried chicken at FSU, and that’s kind of how it resonates in the area.”

Classic coffee cake

On the other side of the country, students line up for another popular menu item. The coffee cake at Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has been a hit ever since it appeared on its menu more than 50 years ago.

“A lot of our older recipes, they actually came from people who worked in the kitchen, so I wouldn’t be surprised if this is somebody’s personal recipe,” says Senior Nutrition Specialist Ivy Marx.

The original coffee cake contained 30 grams of fat, which meant the recipe had to change to meet USDA regulations.

“It’s gone through several reformulations,” Marx says. “The biggest one I would say is the reduction in fat and also the whole-grain requirement. We’ve reduced the size of the coffee cake. Way back when, the coffee cake size was 6 to 8 ounces. Now we’re at about 3 ounces.”

Today, cafeteria managers have the option to make the dish from scratch or use a prepackaged mix. While the recipe has evolved over the years, Marx says the flavor has mostly stayed the same, making it a popular treat for both current and past students.

“[The coffee cake] has just been around for so long. People who have graduated from LAUSD, they still remember. They always ask about it and it has just got such a reputation,” she says. “We can’t take it away. I’m sure we would get a lot of flak. People would be calling us if we took it off the menu.”

Photographs courtesy of Los Angeles Unified School District, Florida State University 

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