Lih Lih Huang, sous chef for Bon Appetit, displays jerk chicken and accoutrements. Photo/David Ertischek ’01
By David Ertischek ’01
The first full semester for Emerson College’s new dining services company, Bon Appetit, featured sweet successes, some swings and misses, and a focus on offering varied meals and locally grown produce. Let’s take a step back and rehash how Bon Appetit came to be the college’s chief cooks, starting with a soft opening in June.
The Emerson community wanted more customizable options, a plethora of vegetarian and vegan options, and in the kitchen, the chefs wanted more autonomy to create their own menus, said Duncan Pollock, Emerson’s assistant vice president for facilities and campus services. Bon Appetit fit the bill, as they not only do all of those things, but also use local vendors within a 200-mile radius to source fresh food from western Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York. The local farms are on display every day on a chalkboard on the bottom floor of the Dining Center.
“Farm-to-table, or as Bon Appetit calls it, ‘farm-to-fork,’ is important to everyone these days, to give students fresher food and give faculty, students and staff a better feeling that this is being made for them and not bulk shipped across the United States,” said Pollock. That also means smaller batches of food, which leads to less waste, and Pollock added that Bon Appetit is more adept at composting than its predecessor. Portions are also smaller to reduce waste.
Other changes included making the upstairs at the Dining Center free of eight major allergens, and created a fully vegan and gluten-free station (Writer’s note: Please try the desserts at this station!). There’s also more emphasis on plant-based options and every meal includes multiple vegan choices.
Students seem to like the breakfast options.
“For me, the brunch is always good. It feels like a fancy hotel brunch. It’s all the classics — bacon, sausage, home fries,” said Max Murphy ’22.
“My favorite is the omelet station where they make it fresh for you with mushrooms, bell peppers, onions … It’s nice after an 8:00 am class,” said Rodin Batcheller ’22.
Friendsgiving Salivating Stats
2,500 students were served on Friendsgiving
70 lbs of roasted turkey was eaten
20 gallons of gravy
60 lbs of chocolate was used for the chocolate fountain
4,000+ pieces of desserts and pastries
“We’ve done pretty good at keeping a variety and mixing it up,” said Dawn Sajdyk, resident district manager for Bon Appetit, who is on site five to six times a week. “As semesters go on there is a general sense… Duncan calls it ‘dining fatigue,’ when you get tired of the dining hall.”
To stave off dining fatigue, the culinary team, led by Sajdyk, an executive chef and two sous chefs, take feedback from a comment board every single day and respond to emails sent through emerson.cafebonappetit.com. Students have noticed.
“I’ve heard if you send them recipes they try their best to make it happen. I think that’s cool,” said Samantha Woolf ’21, who said she likes the variety of offerings, like the stir-fry section featuring Asian cuisines. “I’ve tried Singaporean food recently. I’ve never had that before.”
Of course, there are always standbys available like the salad bar and grill, which some students depend on when they don’t find daily options to their liking, said Allison Hoag ’22.
The menus are not cyclical like how the big dining companies roll, said Pollock. Meaning, don’t expect that every other Tuesday is meatloaf day. That flexibility leads to experimentation – some successful and some … not preferred.
“Pizza is always there, but it’s different,” said Abigail Amato ’22, who likes some of the pizza but was not a fan of the barbecue mashed potatoes.
Mashed potatoes is the most requested food.
The dining hall goes through 200 lbs of potatoes every time it’s served.
Interestingly, mashed potatoes are by far the most requested item, said Sajdyk. “People request it seven days a week. We have it on almost weekly. It always pops up,” she said. “It doesn’t surprise me. Comfort foods go well: mac and cheese, barbecue, meatloaf. We did short ribs a couple of weeks ago and we ran through almost 500 pounds of short ribs just for dinner. That’s 600 orders.”
Along with accommodating student desires, Bon Appetit looks to work with student groups and organizations throughout the year. At a Native American celebration event in November, the dining company created a menu inspired by food the Wampanoag might traditionally eat, such as duck and squash.
“There are lots of student groups we’re involved with during the course of the year,” Sajdyk said. “I want to be able to enhance what you guys are already doing on campus, to work with international students, on sustainability, just to enhance an event with food. Then we’re all helping out.”
Late Night Breakfast Salivating Stats (Dec. 10, 9-11 pm)
1,000+ eggs Benedict
25 gallons of smoothies
6,000 strips of bacon
800 pieces of French toast