Pictured here just after completion, the dining hall at Yale’s new Pauli Murray college is integrated into the fabric of life, with the library offering a bird’s eye view of the modern eatery inside. Also nearby: a half-size basketball court, a dance rehearsal space, a movie theater and a bike repair shop.

Yale challenges dining hall philosophies at new colleges

Are more cohesive, chef-guided meals and composed plates (as opposed to hodge-podge, small-plate, sampling setups, aka all-you-care-to-crowd-onto-your-plate or tray) the next phase in the evolution of the dining hall? Plus, Yale Dining’s new supply management method and why executive chefs now have the top job at each location.

The opening of Yale University’s two new residential communities (known as colleges) was an opportunity for Yale Dining to do a radical rethink on current dining hall caveats and adopt new philosophies for both front-of-the-house and back-of-the-house operations.

Yale Dining Senior Director Adam Millman calls the new approach—which includes changes to supply management and menus—“fundamentally different than anything we have done on campus in the past.”

Up until this year, Yale hadn’t added new residential colleges since 1962. The construction of the new Pauli Murray and Benjamin Franklin colleges began in 2015 and by Aug.23 of this year, about 350 undergrads moved in to each college. (See a cool time-lapse video of the construction here.)

Yale students can build their own bibimbap (left) or choose Mexican street corn.

At Yale, residential colleges function as “the beating heart of the institution…where the ideals of Yale come to life, where intellectual disagreement is carried into friendly conversation,” Professor Tina Lu, head of Murray College, told the New Haven Register. As freshmen, Yale students are sorted randomly into colleges, places to live, study and eat that make a big school feel a little smaller. The two new learning communities were designed to echo the look of downtown buildings from the 1930s, but with modern amenities.

Over the next four years, the two colleges will increase enrollment, eventually housing up to 425 students in each college. Unlike other colleges at Yale, the two newest are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, so disabled students will be given first choice to live there. And to serve these two new communities, two new dining halls were constructed.

The two new dining halls, each named for their respective colleges, are connected by a shared kitchen and storage facility. This is where the shift in supply management is playing out during the first few weeks of school.

“We designed these facilities ourselves and focused on both front of the house and back of the house,” Millman says, beginning by explaining the changes in the back of the house in the ways food is received, stored and then distributed.

“When food arrives in the middle of the night, it’s placed in a secured refrigerator, then in the morning, it’s sorted and distributed to the cooking teams at different concepts,” he says. “It’s about quality control. We’re sending teams just what they need. If one doesn’t need tomatoes, they’re not getting tomatoes.”

In existing dining halls at Yale (and on many other campuses), a central walk-in serves as a communal “free-for-fall” for chefs and cooks from each of station in a dining hall. Product waits in cardboard boxes, and sometimes, extra food gets ordered by mistake and can end up going to waste. Now, the product is taken out of boxes and packed into individualized rolling carts for each station, going exactly where they’re needed for that day, a system that Millman says is designed to cut down on food waste.

A system of menu forecasts, recipes and requisitions comes into play to determine orders, resulting in less food waste, Millman says. For example, at the pizza station, 50 dough balls are needed, along with five gallons of sauce, 10 pounds of cheese, 10 cases of prosciutto, all preordered, are stacked onto a cart on its way to that station.

“We almost engineered it backwards,” he says. “What does the chef need to be successful and how do we get that to them? You’ve heard of mise en place…this is our way of getting everything in its place for them.”

Chefs are playing a bigger role at the new dining halls as well.

“We changed the dynamic of our team,” Millman says. “Now, we have an executive chef as the managing director of each of these facilities, rather than a front-of-the-house person. Because for us, it’s all about the food.”

And last but not least, the big change has been about the food; not just menus and cuisines, but with a new philosophy for a new generation.

“When you study Generation Z, they’re not so much into fusions; they’re more into authenticity,” Millman says. “The current college and university foodservice all-you-care-to-eat model is based on grazing. Pizza is typically cut into 16 little slices so you can get more items on your plate. We’re doing pizza in larger slices, ramen will be in larger bowls and everything you need for a complete meal will be in one place.”

For example, simple roasted chicken can take on different flavor profiles on different days (Greek one day, Jamaican the next...but always chicken with a veggie side) and that’s become one of the hottest new menu items, Millman says.

“What we found was that [in the current grazing model], they didn’t have any end product in mind for their plate—like ‘I’m eating Greek food today.’ Even when we had the stuff available for them to make that it doesn’t necessarily happen. We wanted them to be eating more like they would at a restaurant.”

The salad station is now featuring bigger bowls for entrée salads with grilled chicken or grilled salmon, and “chef-driven ingredients,” like roasted carrots being carved “live.”

The Innovation Station is a craft-your-own (but foolproof) spot for bibimbap and ramen bowls with protein (char siu pork or grilled chicken) and a few different sauces and veggies—all “chef designed, so no matter what they take, it will be good,” Millman says. “It’s a new approach to dining halls and eating.”


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