As students and staff continue to express interest in global cuisine, Worcester (Mass.) Polytechnic Institute (WPI) reinvented one of the three dining rooms within Morgan Hall to better cater to this demand.
“We have three distinct dining spaces within Morgan Hall,” says Joe Kraskouskas, director of dining services for WPI, which is operated by Chartwells. “And we offer a wide array of options here. A few years ago, we completely renovated the kitchen behind The Spoon to make it more flexible. Trends change frequently and we want to be in a position to evolve as needed. Last year we introduced sushi in this space, which seats about 110 and our numbers spiked. We were doing 400 rolls each day!”
The success of sushi inspired Kraskouskas and his team—made up of Soul Bounnaphol, sous chef, Michael Quackenbush, director of resident dining at Morgan Hall, and Lusine Baghsarian, marketing manager for Chartwellls—to look further into international cuisine and find ways to bring it to Morgan Hall. This led to the reinvention of The Spoon into Spoon Around the World—a concept that features an ever-changing menu of international cuisine.
“Twenty-one percent of our students are international, and WPI highly values inclusion,” says Kraskouskas. “What better way to bring dining services into this mission than through food?”
Currently, WPI has 1,400 students on a residential meal plan with another 1,260 on a voluntary meal plan. Morgan Hall is the main dining hall, but there are also two retail locations, a food court with six concepts, a library café, a restaurant/pub, a convenience store and a faculty dining room. On average, WPI serves 3,600 meals per day.
In August of 2016, WPI opened the doors to Spoon Around the World, and each week since a different part of the world has been featured through food. Vietnam, Pueto Rico, Albania, Cuba and Mexico are among the countries that have been highlighted so far. When WPI featured India, for example, the menu consisted of a fragrant chicken vindaloo, a spicy chicken curry and green pea basmati rice pullao.
At the center of the dining room, there is an chef-manned action station where Bounnaphol prepares different elements of the main dish a la minute while an assistant further interacts with students, explaining the dishes, the origin, the ingredients and the preparation methods.
“By being out at the action station with the students, we’re able to get immediate feedback and talk with them about other regions of the world and dishes they think we should feature,” says Bounnaphol.
There are challenges with the new Spoon—but the benefits far outweigh any tests. Changing the menu daily and the region weekly requires lots of education, planning, preparation and taste testing. But Bounnaphol is dedicated to the success of Spoon Around the World.
“The students are impressed with the variety and the feedback has been very encouraging,” he says. “One student thanked us for making him feel like he was at home. Another thanked us for recognizing their country’s holiday. Spoon is bringing together our students and staff in a very inclusive and delicious way.”
The location of Spoon Around the World has also given it an advantage. It’s the first dining space when you walk into Morgan Hall.
“It’s everyone’s first stop whether they’re coming to browse the menu or they already know they’re eating here,” says Quackenbush. “We went from doing roughly 100 to 200 covers per day in this space to 300 to 400 covers per day. Students have come to rely on the fact that there will always be something new and exciting on the menu.”
Spoon Around the World promotes diversity and variety, and according to Kraskouskas, WPI plans to continue to introduce new regions, dishes and cuisines for as long as students want.
“The message here is that we’re committed to our students no matter where they come from,” he says. “We are recognizing diversity through food.”