UChicago Dining Strives to Serve Delicious Food, Positively Impact the Community
By Anne Hartman
For Campus Executive Chef Tom Gilbert, success is about more than serving food that tastes good.
From sourcing in-season ingredients from local farms to diverting thousands of pounds of food scraps from the landfill each month, Gilbert and his fellow UChicago Dining chefs are striving to create a dining program that positively impacts UChicago and the surrounding communities from start to finish. Of course, they also aim to serve delicious dishes to the thousands of students they serve each week.
Gilbert is part of the team at Chartwells Higher Ed, which became the campus’s primary food service provider July 1 and is serving the University’s four dining commons, academic cafés, and retail markets. During the selection process, Chartwells stood out as a provider dedicated to crafting customized menus with local ingredients, authentic flavors, and fresh produce.
“You’ll notice that in all the dining halls, we have as many of the kitchens as possible right in front of the guests, so that they can see we’re a scratch program,” Gilbert said. “We want to make sure that everyone knows what we’re putting on their plates. It’s not processed food.”
For winter, menus will feature comforting classics with a healthy twist, like turkey meatloaf or roasted pork with caramelized applies. Pastry Chef Claire Crenshaw caps off the meal with desserts like sweet potato pie or cranberry and apple crisp.
UChicago Dining taps into local farms and businesses—such as Peach’s Restaurant or Do-Rite Donuts— when procuring their ingredients or additional baked goods to offer on campus. In fact, about 30 to 40 percent of the ingredients used in preparing the meals come from M/WBE businesses in the surrounding neighborhoods.
“We’re selling a tremendous amount of Justice of the Pies’ product here,” Gilbert said of another local business featured on campus. “Because of that, the owner has been able to develop her program and expand her business.”
Students got to witness Justice of the Pies owner Maya-Camille Broussard’s talents firsthand when the chef came to campus for a pie-making lesson that was part of UChicago Dining’s Teaching Kitchen program. The program has also featured lessons from Executive Sushi Chef N.I.C.Z and a crepe making lesson.
“One of my favorite UChicago Dining initiatives has to be the teaching kitchens,” said first-year Ana Guedes, who’s a student Dining Ambassador. “I really enjoy cooking and experimenting with food, however because I live in a dorm I end up having some limitations in terms of what I can make in my room. The teaching kitchens have been a wonderful way to take a break from studying and do something fun that I enjoy.”
The program, Gilbert added, is part of a larger effort to break down barriers between the UChicago Dining staff and students.
“It’s best if students can put a name to a face and get to know the chefs, so that it’s easier and more comfortable for them to give us feedback,” he added.
There are a variety of ways students can share their thoughts with UChicago Dining, including a new Text-to-Chat feature, which allows students to scan a QR code found on table tents in the dining commons to speak directly with staff. Staff also regularly meet with four local dining committees to hear feedback specific to a dining commons.
Gilbert is dedicated to incorporating that feedback into menus. Students’ input, for instance, led Gilbert to broaden both the halal and kosher programs to offer a greater a variety of foods, including comfort foods like hamburgers, steaks, and wings.
“Adding the sort of variety the students want to see lets them know they’re being heard,” Gilbert said.