As the clock strikes noon, the Culinary Institute of America-trained chef rolls into action, spieling out details of the day’s “secret ingredient,” which on this day is artichokes. As he slices, dices and incorporates the vegetables into a delectable pasta sauce, his quickly gathering audience can follow the chef’s every move thanks to an overhead flatscreen video monitor offering closeups of the cooking action.
This is no restaurant or televised cooking show. Rather, it’s part of the daily display cooking offered at the University of San Diego’s Student Life Pavilion, a cutting-edge servery and market concept that’s not only raised the proverbial bar for campus foodserviceâ€”it’s shattered that bar and turned it into something completely new.
Pavilion Dining, which serves about 3,650 meals daily with seating for 550, features 12 unique dining options encompassing an array of global cuisines. What sets the Pavilion apart from other campus serveries is its focus on display cookingâ€”about 90% of all prep work and cooking is done in full view of customers. The Pavilion is also distinguished by its use, where possible, of ethnically accurate cooking equipment, rcipes and plates and its many environmentally sustainable elements.
Steps away from the Pavilion dining area is Tu Mercado, a market featuring natural foods, retail items and a cafÃ©/deli/gelato concept. Together, the two operations handle about 55% of the university’s dining and generate the equivalent of $1.6 million in annual revenue.
“The goal was not to duplicate the old college foodservice model of front-of-house and back-of-house,” says AndrÃ© MalliÃ©, the executive director of auxiliary services and visionary who led the school’s dining transformation. “We wanted everything to be out in front so people could see where their food comes from.”
Lavished With Honors
USD’s previous dining facility had been more than 15 years old and included just about every negative institutional dining stereotypeâ€”tray line, steam pans, bulk cooking, limited food choices, windowless dining area, to name a few.
“We went from the old model of daily offerings of three entrees, two vegetable sides and so on, to making more than 100 items each day,” MalliÃ© says. “We jumped 20 years ahead in a year and a half.”
Spring 2008 saw the launch of a massive renovation project for the existing structure and the addition of an adjacent facility, the 55,000-sq.-ft. Student Life Pavilion. The Pavilion, the new hub of student life on campus, features dining spaces, an upscale market, rooftop deck and garden, along with spaces for student government and organizations. In the fall of ’09, the USD community celebrated the opening of not only the Pavilion and the market, Tu Mercado, but also a fine-dining restaurant and lounge catering to faculty and the public, and a catering production area, to name just the foodservice-related facilities.
The Pavilion and Tu Mercado have earned high praise from other university foodservice operators as well as customers. This summer, USD Dining Services earned two gold Loyal E. Horton awards and a Grand Prize award from the National Association of College & University Food Servicesâ€”one Horton gold was won by the Pavilion and the other one went to Tu Mercado, which also earned the Grand Prize for overall excellence and a Best-in-the-Business award for sustainability aspects. The building as a whole is on track to earn a gold rating from the U.S. Green Building Association’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program. The Pavilion also has been selected as a gold medal Building of America Award project.
The Pavilion consists of 12 dining options that cover an array of global cuisines. Recipes were developed in conjunction with the Culinary Institute of America, Greystone. Stations include three Asian concepts plus Mediterranean, Mexican, American, Italian. A salad bar, soup station and dessert stop round things out.
The first thing you’ll notice about the Pavilion is that there is no behind-scenes kitchen. About 90% of all food served here is literally prepped and cooked in full view of customers.
“Since so much of what would normally be concealed in the kitchen was brought out into the servery, equipment and materials used to frame the preparation were upgraded accordingly,” says Andrew Goldman, who together with his partner Kevin Hom served as lead architects for the project.
Indeed, display cooking defines the layout. And at some stations, “the presentation is the show, be it an actual demo by a guest chef or a menu that change daily,” Goldman says. Digital screens at each stop serve both as electronic menus and video screens projecting the action below.
Te second thing that’ll strike you about the Pavilion is its unified look, thanks to Spanish Renaissance-inspired design elements throughout. Instead of individually decorated stations, a series of framed arches and openings serve to “introduce multiple dining options within the framework of a larger design,” Goldman says. Elegant touches include slate stone pilasters that serve as chalk boards, copper-clad exhaust hoods, wood cabinets, stone prep counters and porcelain tile surfaces.
Cool display elements found at several stations are wooden drawers on the guest side that can be filled with an array of point-of-purchase itemsâ€”baguettes, olive oils, spices, sauces and the like.
“The drawers were our solution to avoid barrels or carts that might impede traffic flow,” Goldman says. “It’s a neat way to present food on multiple levelsâ€”stacked, visible but orderly.”
Several Pavilion stations in particular stand out for sheer innovation or for their use of uber-authentic equipment. The Secret Ingredient station mentioned at the top of the story, for example, packs a huge “wow” factor with showmanship. Chefs at this interactive, educational platform give daily demos about cooking with seasonal foods. The station’s flexible layout allows a variety of mobile equipment to be added, such as a Korean-style barbeque grill, a crepe maker or coffee bean roasters.
“This station is maybe fifth or sixth in terms of sales volume, but our intention was to create an entertaining platform for people to look forward to each day,” MalliÃ© says. “It’s our monotony breaker.”
The three Asian conceptsâ€”Lemon Grass, Mu Shu and Nori Nowâ€”generate the highest sales volumes. They also illustrate MalliÃ©’s insistence on authenticity, from chefs to recipes to equipment.
“Anyone can read a recipe, but it takes a native to give [ethnic] food its true flavor profile,” says MalliÃ© says, who’s tapped Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese chefs to run the stations.
Equipment is critical as well. Nori Now can churn out high-volume (and high-quality) sushi thanks to automated rice cookers, a rice tumbler that cools and mixes in sushi vinegar, a rice-ball machine for nigiri sushi, a rolling machine for maki sushi, and a slicing machine to cut the rolls. Add in sushi case, coolers and freezers, and the equipment tab for Nori Now was close to $60,000. “It’s an expensive station but it’s more than paid for itself,” MalliÃ© says.
Other examples of authenticâ€”and eye-catchingâ€”equipment include the wood-fired oven at the pizza concept, Heirloom Cucina, and an automated tortilla machine operated by native Mexican cooks at Maiz. All units are positioned behind glass, front-and-center, at their respective stations.
“Seeing how the food is prepared also emphasizes its freshness in addition to showing steps needed to create the wrapping and its contents,” Goldman notes.
Tu Mercado, the natural foods/retail market with its L’Atelier coffee bar, gelateria and deli, is another place where USD opted to use authentic equipment. MalliÃ© looked to Italian suppliers for the gelateria items, purchasing a “real gelato machine that turns the mix at a different speed than ice cream machines, for a smoother texture,” MalliÃ© says. A cold-stone surface for blending gelato with mix-ins and an Italian gelato display case round out this popular offering.
L’Atelier’s juice bar section features juicing machines imported from Spain. “The secret to the best fresh-squeezed orange juice is to make sure you crush only the pulp, and not the skin,” says MalliÃ© , who examined many juicers before settling on the Spanish unit.
Other notable equipment anchoring Tu Mercado includes hot and cold display cases for to-go food and a hoodless speed oven for heating deli sandwiches.
LEED By Example
Less obvious to customers are the Pavilion and Mercado’s many environmentally friendly elements that helped add points to attain a LEED Gold rating for the building. In addition to spec’ing Energy Star-approved cooking equipment as much as possible, sustainable highlights include a back-of-house food “digester,” smart front-of-house materials choices and use of natural lighting.
Back in the dishroom area is a food-scrap “digester” system made by BioHitech. The system prevents food scrapsâ€”up to 200 lbs. per dayâ€”from entering the waste stream. (It also reduces work injuries by taking weight out of full waste containers.) The unit liquefies food waste by churning it with a mix of wood chips and microorganisms. The waste liquid is usually disposed of through the sewer system, and USD is looking into ways of using the nutrient-rich effluent on its gardens.
“The vast majority of food scraps comes from dinner, which features â€˜unlimited access’ dining,” MalliÃ© says. “There’s considerably less waste after breakfast and lunch, where items are individually priced.”
As for sustainable materials, both the Pavilion and Tu Mercado use plenty. “The counters are fabricated from recycled materials with high pre- and post-consumer content, and the floor in Tu Mercado is stained concrete, so no use of solvents, VOFs, glues or formaldehyde,” Goldman says. “There’s also a great reliance on reusable dishes rather than waste-generating paper and plastic.”
Maximum use of natural light saves on energy costs. “The dining hall is surrounded by double-height arched windows that bring daylight deep into the room, which is in turn reflected into the servery and open kitchens,” Goldman says.
In addition, glass partitions between servery and dining area let light flow freely as well as letting nearby diners watch pizza cooks work.
The bulk of lights use fluorescent bulbs supplemented by halogen for more appealing food appearance.
Tu Mercado also scores sustainability points for its product offerings, which include fresh fruit and vegetables purchased from local farmers, grocery shelves stocked with organic and natural foods, biodegradable paper products and household supplies, plus fair trade coffee and teas, to name a few.
With the completion of the Pavilion and Tu Mercado, MalliÃ© is already working on his next project of creating a new division. Hospitality Service will enhance the guest experience of national and international conference groups. “We hope to redefine banquets, catering and service standards to attract groups from all over the world to the USD campus,” MalliÃ© says.
HEADQUARTERS: San Diego
AVERAGE FACILITY SIZE: Pavilion dining, 12,500 sq. ft.; Tu Mercado, 8,000 sq. ft.
AVERAGE NUMBER OF SEATS: 550 in Pavilion Dining; 200 in Tu Mercado
FF&E PACKAGE: FF&E Package: $1.8 million for furnishings and fixtures; $1.5 million for equipment
KEY DESIGN PARTNERS: Kevin Hom & Andrew Goldman (design architects and architects of record); Mosher Drew Watson Ferguson (associate architects); Clevenger Frable LaVallee (equipment)
FOR MORE INFO: sandiego.edu/dining/
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