Here at Food Management, we first discovered Chef Ben Leffler through our annual Best Sandwiches competition, in which his bold barbecue sandwich, the Grizz, caught our attention.
Leffler, Aramark chef manager at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, has a lot more than just barbecue know-how going on. He’s been working through the ever-changing world of college dining during the coronavirus pandemic, with students less able to interact and connect with each other, let alone the dining team.
Photo: Chef Ben Leffler was executive chef at a hip gastropub before coming to Kutztown University almost three years ago.
But Leffler and the dining team have created some fun, safe elements that make mealtimes, stations and pop-ups a bit of a celebration during a long winter.
For a pandemic year, “we have a very robust calendar for our students this semester,” Leffler says. “I’m looking forward to our pop-up menus, station takeovers, theme dinners and Food Advisory Board meetings [an online panel of students working with dining on various projects].”
For example, he spent time planning a “Valentine’s vs. Anti-Valentine’s” dinner, something to bring a smile to the lonely hearted, an underserved population during this particular holiday. Dishes for that dinner included Cajun blackened burgers with feta and a dark version of shrimp scampi with midnight-black squid ink linguini.
Another fun menu is for the online Advisory Board, which will get a special packaged four-course Parisian dinner to go, so they can savor fancy French cuisine in their dorm rooms while on a Zoom meeting.
“Our team is committed to the safety and well-being of our students,” Leffler says. “There’s a great sense of community and unity here at KU, and we continue to strive to provide great food for the students. Great food is always an experience.”
Photo: Pop-up events with a fascinating focal point done safely (like this al pastor taco demo) are at the top of Ben Leffler’s to-do list this semester.
Some recent experiences have included tacos al pastor for Taco Tuesday, complete with shaved rotating meat and hand-pressed blue and white tortillas and a fun breakfast-for-dinner action station, Paul Bunyan’s Breakfast with five buckwheat pancakes layered with bacon and ham with cinnamon whipped cream, butterscotch maple syrup and a side of buttermilk donut.
While culinary inspiration must be gathered close to home for now, when it’s safe to travel again, Leffler says he’d love to revisit London and take his family to check out Prague, Czech Republic. “I have a travel bug, especially for street markets, whether it’s domestic or international.”
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