Dining Services’ Local Foods Recipe Takes Top National Honors

For the third consecutive year, a specialty recipe developed by UConn Dining Services has received first-place honors from a nationwide organization of collegiate food service providers.

We pride ourselves on doing everything possible to support sustainability, especially local agriculture. We are now the largest user of Connecticut-grown produce in the state. — Robert Landolphi

This year’s recipe, a bibimbap steak and egg burrito, won the gold medal for Best Local Foods Recipe from the National Association of College & University Food Services (NACUFS) in the organization’s 2017 Loyal E. Horton Dining Awards.

Dining Services will be honored in July by the association for that award, along with the bronze medal it also won this year in the Residential Dining Concepts category for the Putnam Refectory dining hall’s renovation.

NACUFS and other groups have consistently honored UConn over the years for the quality of its food, including locally sourced, vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, and other specialty offerings.

Last year, Dining Services won the NACUFS gold medal for 2016 Best Vegan Recipe for its “Not so Crabby Vegan Crab Cakes with Remoulade Dressing,” which uses hearts of palm to emulate the texture and flavor of crab. In 2015, Dining Services also brought home top honors in the Best Local Foods Recipe with a gold medal for its sweet potato gnocchi, made with eight different local ingredients.

The bibimbap steak and egg burrito that earned UConn Dining Services its gold medal this year is a mixed-rice dish – as suggested by “bibimbap,” the Korean word for the phrase – with  ingredients that come from on-campus sources or farms in the region.

It’s a popular offering at the Food for Thought food truck, which is often parked in front of the Homer Babbidge Library during the academic year. Unlike most bibimbap dishes served in bowls, UConn’s is a hand-held wrapped version so it is easy for students to eat while walking across campus after buying it at the truck.

Wrapped up neatly in a 12-inch flour tortilla, the burrito is “made with a delicious marinade of sautéed fruit and vegetables on top of white rice, sliced beef, and an over-easy egg drizzled with Korean gochujang dressing,” its description reads.

The beef, Asian pears, and shiitake mushrooms in the burrito come from area farms, while the vegetables, eggs, and honey are sourced on campus and at UConn’s Spring Valley Student Farm.

Dining Services has increased its purchases of Connecticut-grown food by 35 percent in the past few years, having established strong relationships with local farmers and the produce distributor who informs those farmers before the growing season – when prices can be locked in – of the specific items that the University will want to buy.

“We pride ourselves on doing everything possible to support sustainability, especially local agriculture,” said Robert Landolphi, UConn’s culinary operations manager. “We are now the largest user of Connecticut-grown produce in the state, and have begun purchasing as much livestock from local farms as possible.”

Dining Services serves about 185,000 meals a week at its eight dining halls at the Storrs campus, and also operates a network of cafés on campus, a food court, and a fine dining restaurant, Chuck & Augie’s.

One of those eight dining halls, Putnam Refectory, won this year’s bronze medal in the NACUFS awards in the Residential Dining Concepts category for its recent renovation and expansion.

The renovation included expanding the dining hall to two floors with food stations on both levels, providing space to serve about 700 students at a time.

It also includes a new juice bar, lounge-style seating areas where students can study as they eat, and an EnviroPure disposal unit behind the scenes that turns food waste into grey water through grinding and aerobic decomposition.

The dining hall also has what are known as “Living Grow Walls,” two areas where more than 100 varieties of herbs are grown under artificial sunlight and can be added to recipes as they’re being prepared in the kitchen. Each plant is watered with a hose that runs on a timer, making them largely self-sustaining, other than the occasional need for dining hall workers to trim the plants to promote their proper growth.

“Putnam’s renovation allows us to provide excellent service and quality to students in an atmosphere that emphasizes the importance of sustainability,” says Dennis Pierce, director of UConn Dining Services. “Many people throughout UConn worked very hard to make this project such a success, and we’re honored that NACUFS has recognized those efforts.”

More than 75 colleges and universities across North America competed in six categories in the NACUFS competition this year, and a team of six judges examined each entry carefully and selected the top candidates in each category.

“The entries submitted by the various NACUFS institutions showcase some of the best trends and ideas in college and university dining service programs across the country,” says Dawn Hearne, director of dining services at Hendrix College and the NACUFS Loyal E. Horton Dining Awards chair.

Each year’s winning contest entries are displayed at the NACUFS national conference, and award winners are publicly recognized at a luncheon culminating with the announcement of the Grand Prize winners. Grand Prize winners also receive recognition with a feature article in NACUFS’ magazine, Campus Dining Today.