The University of California at San Diego’s newest dining location, OceanView, offers diners a view of the water, exhibition-style food preparation, and a full range of scratch-made foods that are halal friendly and certified glatt kosher.
Since it opened to the public last month, lines have stretched out the door.
The Union of Jewish Students and the Muslim Student Association approached the university in 2014, requesting proteins that meet their dietary needs.
Leo Acosta, assistant director of dining and culinary services, agreed: “This is why we are here, to serve,” he says. “We’re taking care of everybody.”
The culinary services team started the project by educating themselves. They researched halal and kosher diets, met with students, and connected with Muslim and Jewish members of the San Diego community.
“Food is common to us all,” says Business Development Manager Jason Andrews. “No matter what your religious background, no matter what your belief system or your political stance, it’s something that can really unite.”
Kosher certification is more complex than halal, making it the most inclusive option for the project. Many who adhere to a halal diet eat kosher meats; the reverse is not true of kosher adherents.
Kosher certification requires a separate, controlled environment in order to comply with kashrut (Jewish dietary laws). To create the right space, the university approved a renovation of the 1980s-era dining hall.
During the 15-month construction project, the university acquired equipment, obtained certification, created and filled staff positions, trained employees and developed menus for the kosher concept, Spice, featuring international cuisine.
Spice is non-dairy and certified glatt kosher, one of the highest levels of certification. All meats come from properly slaughtered animals whose lungs are free of lesions. All products must come from certified glatt kosher purveyors, requiring careful vetting to ensure reliable stock.
The building is free of pork—the ubiquitous meat is a barrier for both Muslim and Jewish students. All recipes, including dressings and other condiments, are made without alcohol or alcohol-containing vinegars.
Together, they spent a year developing job descriptions for and recruiting two “quality assurance chefs” who function as kosher supervisors. One of these supervisors oversees operations during every shift, from meticulous vegetable inspections (they must be free of insects) to food preparation and delivery.
Student employees received training in protocols and proper practice, such as serving different proteins on separate plates. All new equipment was required and each piece was inspected and approved by Hadjadj.
Former Chef de Cuisine Kue Her designed meals rooted in India, North Africa, Indonesia, Latin America and Persia. Future menus will include Asian, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Cajun cuisines.
Each menu features rotisserie chicken adapted to the daily cuisine. A second protein is always on offer, such as lamb, beef, salmon or tilapia. The concept is heavy on side dishes, such as green bean and freekah salad, Indonesian fried rice, or farro pilaf made with apple and fennel
The guiding principle is to develop meals that appeal to the general student population.
“It’s amazing food that happens to be halal-friendly, that happens to be kosher,” Andrews says.
OceanView is one of 19 dining locations that serve the university’s 30,000 students.
Scheduling has presented the biggest management challenges. The same kosher supervisor who opens the facility is required to close, for instance. And if a maintenance crew needs to access the facility, either a kosher supervisor or a rabbi is required to be present. They anticipate hiring more supervisors to alleviate pressure on the current staff.
The response to the new location has been enthusiastic.
“There’s been an outpouring of requests,” Acosta says.
They’ve fielded calls from the campus health system, local caterers and the Jewish temple.
“We’re in a good groove, but not yet,” Acosta laughs. “We’re still learning.”
Though they aren’t ready to provide catering, Acosta says they’re already talking about next steps, such as a third-party pizza delivery system.
“There’s so much promise,” he says. “The potential is there.”