Following up on campus’ complaints about lack of authenticity in Asian food, on Tuesday, March 1, Bon Appétit representatives and students as well as faculty advisor to the Pan-Asian Organization (PAO) and Assistant Dean of Students for Multicultural Affairs Pa Lee Moua, had a meeting to discuss current issues with Asian food at the global station in Andrew Commons, possible solutions and future collaboration. Bon Appétit General Manager Julie Severance, Executive Chef Alan Shook and Warch Campus Center Director Gregory Griffin were also present. At the meeting students got to voice their concerns and propose some concrete action plans Bon Appétit can implement as initial steps toward changes at Andrew Commons’ global food station.
Students brought up some current problems with the food preparation in hopes of better understanding the origin of these inaccuracies. Junior Deepankar Tripurana pointed out the inaccurate preparation of the Indian butter chicken and asked whether the cooks were trained in making different cultures’ foods, with particular regard to South Asian cuisine. Severance clarified that the small talent pool in Appleton does not allow for Bon Appétit to have some one trained in making such foods, among many other restrictions they face regarding ingredients, having to buy from a local supplier with limited diversity in their supply.
Junior Veronica Thao, on the other hand, mentioned the inconsistency in the quality of the rice served, which she felt sometimes seemed to be “half cooked and pebbly.” As rice is such a staple for many different Asian cultures represented on campus, Shook responded to this by citing the difficulty in striking a balance between different preferences across all of these groups, while assuring that the cooking time for the rice would be adjusted, noting this feedback.
Besides case-by-case concerns about specific dishes, much of the discussion was for both sides to come up with practical proposals to not only improve food quality but also to avoid unintentionally upsetting, misrepresenting or misleading students.
There was a consensus amongst all of the students present that describing dishes with ingredient names is preferable to naming dishes after countries of origin. In addition, this will offer students a better idea of the flavors and components of the dishes, rather than using names that many do not understand. This will also help accommodate food-conscious eaters, as pointed out by sophomore Angie Lu. This is also in line with upcoming changes that Bon Appétit is planning to make. As explained by Severance, in light of a provision in the Affordable Care Act that will take effect this summer, Bon Appétit is required to provide a comprehensive list of ingredients and calorie counts for dishes frequently made in their facilities.
Bon Appétit made it clear that with the constraints they have to work with, interpretations of and deviations from the original recipes for traditionally ethnic dishes are unavoidable. As taste is highly subjective, Tripurana suggested that the online menu could include links that specified where the recipes for the dishes came from whenever possible to allow students to see what modifications have been made, as well as the sources and interpretations that the chefs had to rely on. This will improve communication between the student body and the chefs and make the efforts that have been put into recipe sourcing and cooking known.
Last but not least, both sides agreed that continual student feedback in the process is critical in making concrete changes. Griffin, Severance and Shook stated that Bon Appétit is very open to feedback and suggestions. Students also suggested that Bon Appétit actively seek students’ feedback, especially when they first try out new recipes, by putting comment cards at the station with a written reminder for students to give feedback. This is to ensure that when a dish is deemed authentic by the students, it can then be accurately named with not only its ingredients but also its origins. As the naming also makes the cooking and dining experience a lot more exciting for both chefs and students, country names can be included in the dishes’ names, once verified and tested.
These suggestions are definitely not complete solutions to the current issue at Andrew Commons. However, these are all concrete action plans for better food and quality service, especially at the global station. As expressed by Tripurana and freshman Jason Lau after the meeting, the students are appreciative of Bon Appétit’s efforts and the openness demonstrated at the meeting that promise positive changes.