Hungry? If you’re on the University of San Diego campus, do you know there are many ways to satisfy a growling stomach or to grab a between-meals snack? Do you take the consumption of food seriously? Have special dietary needs or perhaps want to know more about what you’re eating?
If you said “yes” to any of the above, chances are good Andre Mallie knows it and, more importantly, wants to make sure your USD culinary experience is as satisfying as an academic program, Mass at Founders Chapel or taking in a Toreros sporting event.
“I like to believe that people not only come here because it is a fantastic university with great academic programs, but that it’s got the whole package,” said Mallie, executive director for USD Auxiliary Services. “It’s about the total experience, that they talk about the quality of residential housing and quality of dining.”
Accolades back up his assessment about USD’s dining services. The 2014 Princeton Review’s Best Colleges list gives USD a ranking of 18th nationally for best campus food. The Daily Meal.com named USD 30th among its list of the top 75. La Paloma restaurant recently earned two major honors, a Loyal E. Horton Dining Grand Prize and a Horton Gold, in the “Retail – Single Concept” category. La Gran Terraza also captured Horton Grand Prize and Gold recognition for “Retail – Multiple Concepts.”
Said Mallie: “It’s confirmation for everyone that we’re doing something correct. There’s a proud feeling amongst the team. It makes us feel on top of the mountain. We also like to think it shows the consistency and the determination of the organization. It makes our staff happy and that’s important because without them, this wouldn’t happen. This shows that we have a great team onboard.”
Though it is still summertime and the majority of USD students won’t be back for a few weeks, USD Dining staff have not rested on their laurels. Literally. Summer is when staff cook and cater to a multitude of conferences — the National Hispanic Institute and 5,000-strong Steubenville contingent to name two — summer scholars, numerous youth sports camps and, for the sixth year in a row, 750 attendees at USD’s signature July event, the USD Wine Classic.
“We’re dedicated to showcase the campus and to treat all guests as special guests,” Mallie said. “I think we’re highly capable of providing a fantastic experience. We have the talent in-house and drive to accommodate high-end, smaller dinners with courses or feed 5,000 people. We look forward to the community joining us, whether it’s at La Gran Terraza or special events. It’s great exposure for the campus and it really opens the door for broader relations.”
And yet, while USD dining services participates in the San Diego Restaurant Week and hosts culinary events like holiday and Gospel music themed brunches, wine pairing dinners or prime rib nights, there’s not a time when Mallie isn’t thinking ahead and trying to improve.
Last week, several USD chefs added to their knowledge through a weeklong on-campus training program with Culinary Institute of America staff. La Paloma is expected to follow the lead of Missions Cafe as a zero-waste campus dining spot. New cooking smokers will be installed at Bert’s Bistro, which Mallie said, “will take barbecue to the next level.” He indicated that Aromas, USD’s popular coffee-meeting-study destination would be spruced up next summer.
“There are always things to improve upon,” he said. “Being on a college campus is like being on a cruise ship. Everyone’s on a journey. The first days of the cruise you do the midnight buffet, the dessert buffet and the lobster buffet and it’s fantastic. But when you’re on the ship for a few weeks, you get tired of it. For our repeat customers, what is fantastic at the start of the semester becomes boredom. We have to recognize this and continue to evolve our program.”
Critical to this evolutionary thinking is working hard to keep prices in check wherever possible, being prepared and delivering for a large clientele in which more people are experiencing health issues with gluten, allergies, diabetes, sugar content, cholesterol and more; examine best practices regarding sustainability through product sourcing, recycling leftovers through the aforementioned zero-waste program, and being proactive with food partners and vendors to collaboratively employ effective solutions for product sourcing.
Educating consumers is part of Mallie’s daily thought process, too.
“I think, over the years, there’s been such an abundance of product that when people go to the supermarket and they see items year-round, they forget when the seasons are. We need to reconnect to the seasons because that’s when the product is ideal,” he said. “This time of year is when figs are in season, not in December. Simplicity of food is essential. When the ingredient is perfect, you don’t have to cover it with layers.”
That’s why Mallie and his staff strive to deliver the best product possible, one every USD dining guest can savor.
“I like for people to walk away having had a dining experience. From the food aspect, it needs to be fresh, needs to be sustainable ingredients and to have an abundance of flavor,” he said. “I want people to feel it’s made from scratch, everywhere on campus, that it’s good food, not only in terms of flavor and presentation, but also healthy. I want people to be satisfied at the end, that the meal was great. I want them to say, ‘I feel good about it.’”
— Ryan T. Blystone
Top two photos by Alan Decker
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