When it comes to the process of menu development in college dining programs, University of Minnesota Aramark District Executive Chef Matt Horn has found that it’s a balancing act he’s been tinkering with in and out of the kitchen.
Horn, who started at the Minnesota last semester, has been testing the waters with “get to know your chefs” web and video initiatives to connect his team with the people they’re serving and at the same time he’s stepping back from his own perceptions and tuning into food trends—and his audience—more and more each day.
“The easiest part of being a chef is making great-tasting food,” Horn says, “while the most difficult is making a profit selling your great-tasting food. It’s a fine balancing act blending client-side wants and needs with current food trends while maintaining a high level of quality and affordability to the end consumer.”
One mistake Horn is actively trying to avoid when creating menus? “You’re not cooking for yourself!” he says. “As a chef in higher education it’s critical to realize that my personal likes and dislikes are irrelevant. I’ll often catch myself creating a menu that I’d like to eat, only to scrap it once I realize it isn’t meeting the needs of our client.”
During a 17-year career as corporate executive chef for a food manufacturing company, Horn formed his relationship with food trends.
“I spent a lot of time monitoring and reporting on global food trends,” he recalls. “Initially it seemed that food trends were constantly changing and evolving, but when you really begin to understand how the consumer makes their choices, the meta trends of health and wellness, international food exploration, quality, convenience and value are all that’s left. There’s always going to be ingredients and flavors of the moment, but they generally fall into one of those broader trend categories.
While keeping that focus on trends and customers, Horn is also looking to highlight the Minnesota team of chefs and managers with two projects he spearheaded soon after starting at M Dining.
“It all came from the candid conversations with students during my onboarding,” he says. “One common theme is that they had no idea the culinary firepower we have working on their behalf across campus.”
To change that perception, “I had our chefs and kitchen managers submit bios and headshots and worked with our marketing team to add the ‘Meet YOUR Chefs’ tab to the M Dining web page.”
In addition, Horn started work on a new behind-the-scenes video series showcasing chefs filmed by a freelance cinematographer. The result has been part one of a culinary highlight reel, entitled “We are M Dining” that can be used in numerous situations, including “giving our client a glimpse of what we do,” Horn says, and recruiting new talent for the kitchens.
“These videos and profiles will also find life on our social media, residential menu panels, scoreboards and more,” he adds. “The goal is to shine a light on the great chefs working behind the scenes.”