By: Anna Radinsky/Assistant News Director
FIU dining is expanding health-based meals and wellness education services through the updated residential dining hall area, 8th Street Campus Kitchen.
The 8th Street Campus Kitchen has replaced the former residential dining hall area in the Graham Center, The Fresh Food Company, to provide menu options based on freshness and nutrition.
Chartwells, the new food vendor at the University, changed the name of the hall to represent the University’s official address and celebrate the popular Miami street that includes Calle Ocho.
Richard Hurst, the system executive chef for Chartwells, gave Student Media a tour of the dining hall to share current and upcoming changes to the dining experience.
Hurst said that all of the ingredients and meals in the hall are fresh; sustainable, notably when it comes to seafood; have no preservatives or MSG (a chemical that has reportedly caused headaches); are low fat, low sugar, low sodium; made from non-GMO fertilizers; and are completely made from scratch.
While also providing health-conscious options for students, the current and future menu options will cater to international cuisines, according to Josue Rodriguez, the marketing manager for Chartwells.
Rodriguez said that Chartwells recognized the diversity of the University and wanted to meet all the cultural and dietary needs of all students.
One section of the hall contains a salad bar that caters more to vegetarians and vegans. It also contains two hot entrees that are switched out twice a day to provide more variability for menu options.
Kosher items are not officially marked as kosher but chefs are available to answer questions about which dishes or ingredients are.
Another section was reserved for those whose diets are gluten-free, along with those who are allergic to soy, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, dairy or eggs. Food in this section is prepared separately from other foods that might contain allergens.
There is even a separate toaster and gluten-free bread for those whose diets are gluten-free.
Some students think that the 8th Street Campus Kitchen is similar to Fresh, but it also contains elements that make it unique.
“There’s a whole seasoning tray and that’s really cool,” said Ariel McGanee, a sophomore majoring in psychology. “I just think that there are more flavors now and I like that. It’s an improvement from what it was before.”
8th Street Campus Kitchen emphasizes the freshness of its ingredients to provide a more nutritional and appetizing experience for its guests, according to Hurst.
Most the the ingredients are locally sourced, meaning they come from a 250 mile radius around the University.
“Thankfully we’re in Florida so the state gives us a lot to work with,” said Hurst.
Many of the ingredients within the dishes are also seasonal to maximize the use of the food, according to Gabriela Alfonso, the Chartwells higher ed registered dietitian.
Foods that are in season are used in the dining hall for many dishes because they are the ingredients that are most available for local farms to provide.
For example, tomatoes are in season from October to June, which would allow the dining hall to create many dishes and red sauces during that period of time.
However, when ingredients are not in season Chartwells has to outsource them to meet demand for menu options.
“Imagine if we were to take tomatoes off of our menu [from July to September]. It’s not ideal or realistic.” Alfonso said. “We have to outsource from other locations because that’s the American mentality… we get food, even if they’re out of season, on any time of the year.”
8th Street Campus Kitchen is trying to use more seasonal foods and educate the public about them by introducing a program called “Superfood of the Month.”
“This month’s superfood is apples,” Alfonso said. “That is why we have a lot of dishes with them, whether it’s a side or a dessert or apples available everywhere in the dining hall.”
Another program that the dining hall is looking forward to expand on is Project Clean Plate, where students are educated hands-on about the level of food waste.
Two weeks ago, students were told that 3,000 pounds of food that could have been composted or eaten was thrown away in one day.
“Chartwells is very big on sustainability, so while we do cater to our students we also want to be as earth-friendly as we can,” said Rodriguez.
Hurst said that all of the changes that will occur in the 8th Street Campus Kitchen and around the north and south campuses will occur to better fit the needs of students, faculty and staff, while also reaching for greater sustainability.
Photos by Ivonne Rodriguez/PantherNOW