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Students Define Local in Welles Dining Hall

By Sarah Wallace

Michigan turkey, green beans, and apples were served last Thursday, April 10, as part of Kalamazoo College Dining Services’ first local meal of the quarter. These foods were on exhibition that day, but the cafeteria has 15 local products at any given time, and the number will be going up with the season’s turn.

Kalamazoo College Dining Service’s definition of local is food purchased from companies that are within a 150-mile radius of Kalamazoo. This does not necessarily mean that all the food brought in is produced in Michigan, although the majority is.

The Dining Service’s staff is actively working to increase the amount of local food that is available to the College. One recent addition is sushi in the Richardson Room, which is purchased from local Hunan Gardens, located on West Main Street in Kalamazoo.

The idea of serving sushi came from a tour of Western Michigan University’s campus that a few of the Dining Service employees took, including Emily Pyne, James Chatanasombut, and Estelle Bean. Jill Nance, the new Dining Supervisor Lead, is pleased with the quality and the response from students.

“Hunans makes the sushi fresh every day. It gets delivered here every morning and it’s very well-handled and very well-done,” Nance said. “We’re selling out of it daily. I’m surprised at how fast it caught on.”

This is just one way students can see that the Dining Service is looking to fulfill campus needs. Farms to K is working to increase the amount of local food in the cafeteria. Emily Pyne, the former Supervisor Dining Lead, commented on this:

“Farms to K and the food committee – Kalamazoo students – define local and what percentage of these local foods they want to see available,” Pyne said. “Our goal is to reach whatever they are asking for.”

Farms to K is supportive of the Real Food Challenge, a nonprofit organization that has a nationwide goal to get 20 percent of the cafeteria’s food to be “local” by the year 2020. Maddie MacWilliams, one of the Civic Engagement Scholars and Co-Leaders of Farms to K along with Nadia Torres, recognizes that this is difficult to accomplish.

MacWilliams brings up that Farms to K’s definition of “local” means that the product does not only come from within a 150-mile radius and from the state of Michigan, but that it is grown and produced there, as well.

“We would be thrilled if we could reach the goal of 20 percent local and sustainable food in the cafeteria in the near future, but we understand that, based on our definition of local, this is an ambitious goal,” said MacWilliams.

Emily Pyne has recently left the Dining Service’s staff after working at K for 12 years. She was happy to reflect on the company’s growing relationship with the school.

“Creative Dining’s learning the demands of the students, the students are learning how the company is going to function,” Pyne said. “The Kalamazoo College campus is lucky to have Creative Dining and as far as the options and the quality of the food, it supersedes by far…any university around here.”

 

Pizza’s Kitchen: No Gluten, No Fun

By Emily Pizza

Everything at K seems to have gluten in it. Well, everything that tastes good, at least. I have so much respect for anyone that can do this for over a week. The cafeteria claims it is very dietary-restriction friendly, and my task for this week was to decide whether they were gluten-free friendly or not. My answer is sometimes.

While I was really happy about the signage in the caf indicating which of my options included gluten, I was also really limited in my options. I would spend one day eating nothing but rice and veggies, which gets old fast, because the other gluten-free options were some sort of chickpea orange goop that I just couldn’t force down.

Other days I would be shocked at the all options I had. I had some great soups, salads, and other gluten-free meals this week, and I would leave feeling completely satisfied. Overall, you can eat gluten-free in the caf as long as you aren’t picky. You either eat nothing but rice and veggies, or only eat French fries.

I also discovered something else: gluten-free bread is gross. I tried it and I attempted to like it, but it just tastes like cardboard.  While I definitely don’t blame the cafeteria for this, I do wish that they didn’t consider themselves gluten-friendly because they have cardboard-tasting bread.

However, I did find a few gems. The gluten-free cookies over by the pizza station were to die for! I was amazed that anything without gluten could taste so good. I definitely give credit to the cafeteria staff for buying those for us. Are they definitely bought? If you haven’t had them, I really recommend you try them.

Eating at the Richardson Room Café, or “Stacks,” was also a challenge, because I was not a fan of the gluten-free bread. Luckily, the salad selections weren’t too bad. It would be nice, though, if there was an option to add meat to any salad free of charge, it would have helped to keep me full longer.

Another suggestion would be to put the croutons in one corner of the salad, so they are easier to pick out and don’t leave gluten-dust all over the lettuce. That said, the strawberry-almond salad in the Book Club is delicious and completely gluten-free. I was glad to be able to grab that in between busy classes.

Overall, I give the cafeteria credit for their efforts to keep the gluten-free people fed, but it’s our job as students to reflect on the food. It’s important that people who have eaten gluten-free for a while propose recipes for the staff to serve. Although I don’t have any in mind, I’m sure some of my fellow students. If we don’t help K College Dining, we can’t blame them for our growling stomachs at the end of the day.

Pining for Dining

Emily Pyne, the Dining Room Lead of Kalamazoo College Dining Services, sat down for an interview with the Index

By Charlotte Steele

Emily Pyne, the Dining Room Lead of Creative Dining at Kalamazoo College. Photo by Charlotte Steele

Index: When did you first know that you love working with food?

EP: I started this job back when I was 17… I’m 29 years old now. I’ve actually been on-and-off with the company. I was here for three years and then I worked a couple of different jobs and would work here part time just for some extra money. When I decided to go back to school I came back to work here full-time because they could work around my hours. Then, when they opened Jazzman’s (now Richardson Room), I got promoted to be the supervisor down there and kind of head-up all that stuff, so that initiated the next step of my career here and kind of taking on more responsibilities, and that kind of just evolved into this roll [of Dining Room Lead].

Index: Were you always interested in food?

EP: It just kind of happened…my best friend in the entire world… Ashley Darling is a Chef, and she went to the Culinary Institute of America to get her degree. She worked here in the kitchen at the College, they needed help, and she referred me here. That’s how I started working in food. I just love the fast pace, and I love working with the students. Every day is different because you serve new food every day. You’re constantly learning new recipes and so it’s very motivating to continue learning different things about the food… that’s why I stuck around.

Index: What are some of your hobbies?

EP: I love Zumba…I got married, had a couple of kids and needed to exercise so I got into the Zumba scene. I would love to get certified and become an instructor and teach it.

Index: Name one thing that you like about Kalamazoo.

EP: I love Kalamazoo because it’s just big enough for me to feel like I’m in a big city. I really love the community and the people, and I really love the young atmosphere because of all the universities around here. I think that Kalamazoo is geared towards that younger crowd and younger scene. And the food; I really love the local aspect of it, all the restaurants, too.

Index: Will you name a few important people and/or pets in your life.

EP:  I love heavy metal music, and I go to a music festival every year called Rock on the Range; this was my fifth year this year. So, influential people… Stone Sour right now is one of my favorite bands. Other people would be my husband and my children and my father. Really, my family is the most important, and music is very, very, very important to me because I have to have it to keep going.

 

Mixing it Up

By Charlotte Steele

Reflecting on the Changes of Campus Dining

The Grainery Oatmeal dispenser in the Book Club. Photo taken by Charlotte Steele.

Although first years may not realize it, those that were around before Creative Dining Services will notice that they have given the student dining experience some real flare since their arrival on campus.

To start, Kalamazoo College Dining Services is personable and attentive to the needs of students. It is clear that the cafeteria is a place for K Hornets. From the black and orange uniforms, to food items such as “hornet sauce,” Dining Services is up to date on the latest events on campus and is involved in student life.

Overall, students find this year’s dining experience to be more personable and diet-sensitive than in previous years.

“There are definitely way more and better vegetarian options,” said senior Paula Dallacqua. “The labeling is conscious, and there are more gluten-free options, as well.”

“They are more conscious of the need to eat and support local foods,” senior Stann Omar-Jones said.

These food are not just local to Kalamazoo, but local to our campus community and the needs of the student body. Dining Services has initiated a plethora of new systems and food items since the beginning of the year that are distinct to this year’s dining experience.

New items are marked with a “BOOM!” sign. These include a sampling program in an effort to decrease food waste.

Another new change includes a locally milled oat dispenser in the Book Club. Cup sizes are available for purchase as a quick breakfast. Generally speaking, the dining experience feels more detailed, intentional, and personalized.

Other goals include continuing to search for local vendors, planting an herb garden, and having more entertainment nights and events in the cafeteria, including cooking classes, said James Chantanasombut, the Dining Service General Manager.

This year has held an entirely different eating experience than those in years past. While we can’t have everything in the cafeteria, it’s important to remember what we do have.

 

What’s Up in Welles?

By Charlotte Steele

 

General Manager of Kalamazoo College Dining Services James Chantanasombut

The Index: When did you first know that you loved food or were really interested in food?

JC: When I was about 20 or 21, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. It just kind of hit me all at once that I’ve got kind of an artistic background… Just growing up and watching my Dad cook…I’ve got a Thai background, and I grew up watching him make all of this scratch food. I love being able to please people through food and making it with my own hands. Its immediate gratification. And it just kind of took off, immediately.

The Index: What did you do from there?

JC: So I signed up for culinary school, started taking culinary classes, went ahead and got in some places and started working.

Before then I had been working… with dishes when I was like 14. That was my first job, at like, this giant conference center in Waynesville. It was called the Dear Dutchman, an Amish restaurant that sat about a thousand people, in this tiny town of Waynesville… I worked a couple of fast food jobs in there too but it wasn’t until I was 21 that I really decided I wanted to be a chef, went to culinary school, and went ahead and got a job at a country club.

I was told that you want to find the best chef around, and be able to learn from him. So I looked around town to see who was the best chef in the area and started working for him while I was going to school. Then I did an externship in London, and finally got my first real paying position with more creative license, and became a Sous Chef and then an Executive Sous Chef at a big Hilton in Indianapolis, and then Executive Chef at an independent boutique hotel in Indianapolis.

The Index: Which one of those was your favorite?

JC: Probably the country club, because I was exposed to more things there than I was in any other time in my career. That’s really where I developed my foundation, and gained my confidence. And London was awesome, because at the hotel we were doing last-minute plated soufflés for 400 people at a time. And to be abroad…it really opened my eyes to a whole different way of doing things.

The Index: What are some of your hobbies?

JC: Anything outdoors, definitely hiking, biking, camping, traveling, and eating.

The Index: Name one thing that you like about Kalamazoo.

JC: The sense of community is kind of cool. The feel, just the whole atmosphere, it’s kind of artistic, kind of an artsy town. It’s just different. I wouldn’t expect a town like Kalamazoo to be in Michigan. It’s really different in a cool sense.

The Index: Will you name a few people and/or pets in your life?

JC: My wife, Sarah, and my Dog, nutmeg… that wasn’t her name before we got her but she is the color of nutmeg.