New food stations and evolving seating arrangement shake it up at the Dining Hall
by MaryAlice Bitts
August 30, 2010
Students line up to test the menu at the KOVE, the new kosher and vegan food station.
After installing a sushi bar, a local-produce stand, sustainable trayless practices and the Waidner-Spahr Library’s new Biblio Café last year, you might think that the folks in Dining Services would rest on their laurels this semester. Not so.
In fact, they’re ramping it up with new food bars, a snazzy café and a revamped seating arrangement that's the buzz of the campus community. Changes took effect on Monday, Aug. 30—the first day of classes for the new semester.
Mixing it up
The Dining Hall’s basic layout has remained virtually unchanged for generations—a fact that has inspired some student groups to unofficially lay claim to specific areas for decades or more. The practice became territorial and unwelcoming, a pattern that can be found in college dining halls across the United States. But this year’s patrons at Dickinson will enjoy a fresh start.
Dining Services staff members have rearranged the tables and chairs in the Dining Hall and have added six coffeehouse-style highboy tables to the mix, creating a seating pattern that varies traffic flow and encourages students to broaden their social circles. The long, straight entrance aisle in the “Caf” was dubbed “the Caf-walk” (read “catwalk”) by generations of Dickinsonians, and made some students—male and female—feel uncomfortable as the subjects of commentary by others. These concerns were a driving factor behind the new, and continually evolving, seating pattern, said Stephanie Balmer, vice president for enrollment and communications and dean of admissions.“There’s a social pressure students can feel under the old arrangement,” acknowledged Balmer. “It’s time to mix it up.”
In addition, strategically placed entrances and multiple new food stations eliminate the need for long lines. It may take students a little time to adjust to the changed arrangement—instead of standing in one line, they can proceed directly to the stations of their choice—but change always begins with a period of uncertainty.
Back to the earth
Not all of the changes are so immediately obvious. Because a warm conversation is encouraged by a warm color scheme, staff members have added a bold, earthy stripe of color to the far end of the hall. The stripe stretches across the top portion of the walls in the food-station area, unifying the multiple stations and subtly altering the room’s ambiance.
A walled-in dish-return area further improves aesthetics, not to mention traffic flow. Diners now place their dishes and flatware in receiving windows that have been carved in the new partition. Behind the wall, staff members place the compostable materials directly on a conveyor belt. The materials are then shipped to the Dickinson College Farm’s compost area.
“We're proud of our sustainable practices here in the Dining Hall. This new area streamlines the [waste removal/composting] process, and it’s more eye-appealing,” explained Keith Martin, director of Dining Services.
Grains for Brains
But the changes are not all about aesthetics and socialization. In addition to the local-fruit cart, gluten-free refrigerator and bountiful salad bar, students have even more healthy-food choices this year, thanks to the Grains for Brains whole-grain bar.
With its colorful abundance of artisan breads and grains such as brown rice, lentils and quinoa, this new food station makes it easy for students to get their USDA-recommended allowance of whole-grain servings each day.
“What’s exciting about Grains for Brains is that it’s student-driven,” said Martin, who serves on the Dickinson S.A.V.E.S. student-food committee and who adopted the whole-grain station at the request of student committee members. “It’s a healthy alternative that the students asked for specifically, so we know they will eat it.”
The KOVE: Certifiably delicious
With entrees such as falafel chicken, citrus London broil, soy burgers and lentil and brown rice casserole, Dickinson's new kosher-vegan food station offers mouth-watering mealtime alternatives that extend far beyond stereotypical kosher fare.
“When you walk down Giant’s kosher aisle, what do you see? A couple of jars of gefilte fish, matzo soup and egg noodles. But there’s so much more to the kosher diet,” observed kosher-food expert Louise Powers. “Anyone can eat kosher food, and we want to be sure it is tasty enough so anyone may want to. Food can be kosher and delicious.”
Powers and colleague Ricki Gold are kosher-food inspectors, or mashgichot, from Star-K, a nationally recognized kosher-certifying agency based in Baltimore. They direct the new kosher kitchen at Dickinson, ensuring that all kosher and vegan food served at the new food bar meets their rigorous standards.
Dubbed the KOVE—a clever blend of “kosher” and “vegan”—the food bar offers one vegan entree and one kosher dairy, meat or fish entree at lunch and dinner. Thursday nights feature international kosher and vegan cuisine, and students enjoy comfort-food offerings on Sundays. Kosher entrees also will be available at college events. “The food also meets halal requirements, because we follow such strict guidelines,” said Gold.
All of the food is prepared under Powers’ and Gold’s watchful eyes. The two inspectors begin with certified-kosher ingredients, including meat, chicken and other ingredients from a Baltimore-based company, as well as from Harrisburg’s Feesers Foodservice Distributor. When possible, they use produce from the Dickinson College Farm and other local outlets.
“We have to check all leafy vegetables—lettuce, spinach, broccoli—for insects, using a light box and magnifying glass. We also check eggs for blood spots. These are things that most people are not aware of, but we need to be very careful,” said Gold.
To ensure that all meat and dairy food is kept separate, the mashgichot also supervise the chef in Dickinson’s new kosher kitchen.
That kitchen appears to have been decorated by a harlequin jester: One half of the room, where meat is prepared, is painted red; the other, where dairy dishes are created, is blue. Each side features a complete set of major and minor appliances, dishes, utensils, cookware and bakeware—all color-coded, to avoid confusion when it’s time to put the dishes and utensils away.
Powers notes that their hard work is more than worth it—and not just to those who keep kosher for religious reasons. “Many students who don’t keep kosher often enjoy the food, either because they perceive it to be more healthy, or because they just like the taste,” said Powers, explaining that the KOVE will feature college standbys, such as hot dogs, hamburgers and pizza, as well as healthier options, such as salads and salmon brushed with a Jack Daniels sauce. “We’re hoping everyone will give it a try.”
A grande old time
Finally, if you’re perked up by percolation, you’re in luck. You can now revive your next study session with a vanilla-caramel macchiato, if you please.
Specially trained baristas in the Waidner-Spahr Library’s Biblio Café now offer an array of hot and cold Starbucks drinks, as well as coffeehouse fare such as pastries, cookies and other light-menu items. A sustainability incentive provides a discount if you bring your own mug.
The café is open Monday through Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 a.m.; Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 a.m.
It's just one more example of the many ways the college works to continually enhance the residential experience at Dickinson, said President William G. Durden ’71. “Residential life is an important aspect of the Dickinson experience,” he said, noting that the college also upgraded some of its residence halls during the summer and has been revamping its athletics facilities in recent years.
“Pending our fundraising success during the next few years, we will continue to improve residential and athletic facilities. We know what has to be accomplished. The comprehensive end result is dynamic and impressive and contributes to a highly engaging undergraduate experience.”
Getting hungry? See what’s cooking today on Dining Services’ daily menus.