By Katie Zeck
While the Westminster Dining Commons may be small in physical size, big changes have been made at the Westminster Choir College (WCC) eatery.
This summer, the menu at the Commons was revamped concurrently with the Daly’s menu. The culinary revisions were made as a result of a joint effort from current Commons chef Steve Jacobs; Victor Caruso, the new executive head chef at Daly’s; Greg Skiendzielewski, a chef who joined the Commons dining team in August; and Chrystine Kovatich, WCC’s Aramark director.
“I’m really proud of our Westminster Dining Services team for being excited to work with new products and recipes, as well as really focusing on customer service and listening closely to our students’ feedback this semester,” Kovatich said.
Skiendzielewski added that the staff at the Commons is paying close attention to the dietary restrictions of certain students.
“I was intially very surprised to learn that such a great number of our students are vegetarian or vegan,” Skiendzielewski said. “In addition to that, an even greater number are really committed to making healthy, and just plain smart, choices when it comes to what they are eating. Simply by offering internationally influenced and creative meatless options, I’m noticing that many students who are not vegetarian are trying these dishes and enjoying them. It’s exciting to know that we’re creating an environment at Westminster that encourages our students to eat healthier, expand their palates, and most of all, have fun doing it.”
According to Kovatich, the main influence and driving force behind WCC’s menu changes are direct student feedback, along with Caruso’s culinary background.
“We learned through last semester’s food service committee meetings that our students are interested in trying more creative menu items, but still want to see some of their favorites too,” she said. “Chef Victor Caruso has such a unique style and a great understanding of what is trending in the restaurant business, so we’ve been able to use his ideas, along with Chef Greg and Chef Steve’s creative twists, to have menu offerings that have given us some rave reviews and allow us to take the Dining Commons to the next level.”
A new station called Allegro was created at the Commons as a way to showcase higher-quality, restaurant-style meals — something that is also being emphasized at Daly’s. Here, Kovatich says, students can find lunchtime sandwiches like turkey Dijon and Swiss paninis with bacon, sautéed spinach and mushrooms; cheddar Jack paninis with black beans, corn salsa and pepper jack cheese; and a classic BLT with homemade ranch potato chips. For dinner, students can enjoy a deconstructed beef Wellington with filet mignon; fresh salmon with Dijon dill sauce; homemade ceviche; ginger scallion chicken; and cumin and mint lamb sliders.
“Allegro features interesting proteins in small-plate form so students can sample trendy and unique items, and feel free to come back for more,” Kovatich said. “We worked hard to incorporate vegan and vegetarian options into our Allegro menus as well.”
Besides the addition of more variety and meal options, the speed and accessibility of the stations during peak hours were also addressed.
“Another challenge we have in the Dining Commons is that the majority of our students are only able to have lunch between 12:30 p.m. and 1 p.m., so we have a major rush and need to be able to move students through the line quickly so they can make it to their 1 p.m. classes on time,” Kovatich said.
To solve this problem, the Commons chefs have designed new sandwich and salad options that allow for a quick grab-and-go meal.
Both new and seasoned visitors of the Commons have expressed fairly positive reactions to the menu changes.
“There’s definitely more space for more stations, which does increase the variety of food,” Gary Margerum, a senior music education major, said. “The specialties station has been making a lot more high-quality food, and they rarely repeat meals. It’s cool to see that they’re experimenting with different kinds of food a lot more than they were before.”
Kristina Devers, a freshman vocal performance major, agreed.
“I didn’t think there would be this much variety or this high quality of food when I came here, so I’ve been pleasantly surprised,” she said.
Some students, however, offered a few suggestions where even more improvements could be made.
“It would be nice if they could extend the hours when they have hot foods available and not just the deli or salad bar,” said freshman music education major Christopher Bocachica. “It would also be nice if there were more meal options in general on the weekends.”
“The variety is good, but it’s no Daly’s,” said Omar Soto, a freshman music education and vocal performance major.