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School Food Review

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I'll take the vending machine food over hairy salad any day.

Cosmopolitan comestibles for cogitating chewers.

by Jesse “Rumbly Stomach” Stein

Fall ‘07 has brought great improvements in SAIC’s Food Service. Really.

The new school food service, on level 12 of the MacLean Center and level two of the Sharp Building, is provided by Kenmare Catering and Events.

Describing their fare on leaflets as “We actually care … amazing food … gourmet sandwiches … exotic salads,” Kenmare Catering is pitching a healthier and more diverse school food selection. Opening in September this year, the company initially found the response was slow, and students were unaware of the existence of the Sharp Building outlet. A splurge of freebies and discounts soon followed.

According to Tara Sullivan, Director of Student Life, “Last year the SAIC Food Service Committee conducted an extensive review of our food service on campus. This review included administering a survey to the community, conducting focus groups of faculty, staff and students, and meeting with potential vendors. Based on this feedback … we chose Kenmare Catering.”

Marissa Tieri, a friend of Kenmare’s President, Reid Tillinghast, has been working behind the Maclean Center counter and gauging student responses. According to Marissa, the students seemed relieved and positive about the new food selection, though some complained it was too expensive.

OK, it’s not free, and free food always tastes better, but … $1.50 for a fruit salad? $5.75 for a pound of fresh salad? (And when would you eat a whole pound of salad, anyway?) 8 oz of coffee for $1. That’s not so bad. It certainly beats outside-school vendors for price.

A quick scan revealed a remarkable variety of healthy stuff. Apart from the self-serve salad there are two soup options at $2.50 for 8 oz and $3.75 for 16 oz; garden vegetable crudités with dip for $2.95, and dolmades (vegan stuffed vine leaves) at an uncharacteristically expensive $4.25. Sandwiches can be made to order, deli style, between 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. in the MacLean Center. Hot food includes vegetarian and beef lasagna, hot dogs and veggie dogs, vegan potstickers and edamame (those Japanese yummy soybean things). The roast beef is from Boars Head Meats, and the soup is “homemade”, that is, not out of a can (in case you’ve forgotten soup can come in other forms). My thumbs up goes to the spinach and ricotta vegetarian lasagna.

The coffee is from Intelligentsia, with three types available: Los Inmortales from El Salvador, Sumatra Decaf and La Perla de Oaxaca, which is organic from Mexico. A pleasurably diverse range of tea bags are $1.25 and if you just want boiling water it’s 50 cents (huh?). The coffee is all filter filter filter, and then kept in (not-so-warm) self-serve thermoses. If your coffee is too cold you can warm it up in the microwave, which is at least a signal Kenmare knows the thermos system isn’t the warmest option. I’m still praying to the Gods of Espresso that one day the school coffee will move beyond filter, but for now my prayers have not been answered.

As for quality, the fresh food is made daily. The salad starts looking tired after 2:30 p.m., but if you’re a chirpy morning salad person, it’s all good. If you don’t like finding hair in your salad be careful: my co-worker was unfortunate in this regard. If you’re still pining for that classic school-food staleness, there are a couple of unappetizing-looking prepackaged sandwich options in the refrigerator, such as a turkey and swiss roll for $4.75, to remind you of the good ol’ days.

My first culinary escapade involved purchasing the fruit salad. I was so excited about the $1.50 cheapness that I wolfed it down and spent the following three hours of class doubled over in pain from stomach cramps with dashes to the bathroom during break. It could just have been my weak constitution … right? Lets hope so.

 

STOP THE PRESSES!

Since writing this rather kind review in September—just as the school food service was in the throes of promotion and freebies—the quality and diversity of food seems to have gone downhill. The salad seems limper, the fruit seems about five weeks old, and everything has to be microwave heated in a really gross, dirty microwave. Even the edamame looks kinda sad, sweating in its plastic box. What happened? Was I just moved merely by the freebies, by the samplers of potstickers and veggie lasagna? The heartbreak of mediocre school food continues…

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