We asked Dawn Aubrey about some of the food innovations (and flops) at UI Dining Services.
On today's student culinary preferences
"They want an interesting flavor profile. Food is no longer just nourishment. It's an experience. So it's got to be interesting in smell and taste and how it looks."
On the latest ethnic additions
"We have bibimbap, a Korean dish that is called mixed rice. We have Vietnamese fresh rolls: the spicy peanut sauce is the bomb. And fresh sushi rolls every day. Right now we're introducing lots of East Indian food — mattar paneer, a cream-based curry with tomato and peas. It's delicious."
On other innovations
"We smoke our own meats, and that is everything from a whole pig to turkey breasts to even prime rib.
"We have six pastry chefs on staff. We even make whoopie pies.
"We have vegan corners in every location. We also have gluten-free or special-diet refrigerators in every location."
On reducing food waste
"We were the first Big Ten school to go trayless. Instead of students grabbing a tray and loading it up, they can still eat as much as they want but they have to go back and get another plate. What we've noticed is a drop in our post-consumer waste: literally, and this is a real honest to God number, 80 percent. Students are actually eating everything they're taking."
On the freshman 15
"The joke is now that dining is the way it is, it's the Freshman 50, which is not necessarily what we want to be known for. We're presenting them with an ice cream bar that includes candied bacon and pistachios and chocolate with crystallized chili peppers.
"There's a certain adjustment that they go through because they're very overwhelmed by the choices. When they learn that there's a lot of choices but you don't have to eat all of them every day, it's good."
On student favorites
"Cheese sticks. Oh my goodness. They love them. Everything's better dipped in pancake batter and fried.
"We do these flat breads. You can top it any way you want, and we bake it for you. Hugely popular.
"On top of that, I would say anything that's like a noodle dish."
On the not-so-favorites
"We served a vegan sausage patty, which why on Earth would they call it a sausage patty? Students either love it or hate it.
"Tofu scramble. We have a handful of students who love it. We have some who could hardly even look at it. We cook that to order these days."