How does your cafeteria compare to ours?

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How does your cafeteria compare to ours?

Skye Shaw, staff writer

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Columbia College dining services goes beyond normal standards to provide nutritional meals to all students, faculty and staff.
Sodexo operates Columbia College’s dining services. Sodexo is now the worldwide leader in Quality of Life services. The Quality of Life program encourages a healthier diet, according to the Sodexo website.  For over 50 years, Sodexo has developed unique expertise, backed by nearly 425,000 employees in 80 countries across the globe.
The resident dining hall offers all the comforts of a home cooked meal along with a variety of innovative American entrees, ethnically inspired foods and vegetarian selections.
Columbia College has a highly experienced and trained Sodexo staff. The executive chef, Alesha Zimmer, creates the menu, cooks and serves. She took me to the kitchen where everything is prepared and allowed observations of the technicalities that go into working behind the line.

“We take temperatures on the [food line] every hour, on the hour,” Zimmer said. This guarantees quality food is being served to the students, faculty and staff every time someone comes up and asks for a plate for every meal. They measure the hot box temperature every hour; this is where the food waits to be put onto the line. If the hot box drops below the temperature of 140 degrees, they cannot serve it. If the refrigerator goes above 40 degrees, she must throw out the food, report it to Sodexo and fix the fridge. The same protocol occurs if the freezer goes below 32 degrees.

“All the vegetables, meat and fruit are fresh.”  Zimmer also said they make all the ranch, honey mustard and barbecue sauce in house, which means homemade.

“We track everything. Everything they do on the line is accounted for. Y’all go through at least 5,000 pieces of food in one meal period,” Zimmer said. “We go through $3,500 worth in produce a week.” In 1963, $3,500 would have had the same buying power as $28,382.70.

According to Zimmer, the produce truck comes to campus  Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Over the course of one to two days, the campus goes through a case of apples, oranges and bananas. A case of bananas averages around 40 pounds.

All the meat comes in fresh, but they  freeze it because of the large quantity of meat.
For the dishes to be considered clean, they must be cleaned at a certain temperature. She said if they are not cleaned at 180 degrees then the dishes cannot be used.
At all times, there is $10,000 worth of dry storage, consisting of Styrofoam, grains and canned items, in inventory.

Sodexo makes all the cakes, cornbread and other pastries, such as Jello, banana pudding and homemade granola bars.
“We make fresh; we buy nothing prepackaged,” said Jeff Hamman, general manager for Columbia College dining services. “You should be proud of the organization around here.”
Cooking is an art. People do not expect to find beauty and elegance from a college cafeteria. There is beauty in everything the chefs and bakers do. The everyday things the people do are taken for granted for the artistic quality they have.
The cookies the bakers make have to be cooked perfectly, with the right amount of ingredients.  Some students think the cookies are bought from the store, but they are made in house.
Everything has a special touch to it. When I was observing, I noticed one color can change the way something looks. When Zimmer put a pan of green beans out, they appeared as regular green beans served a normal way. Then she added halved cherry tomatoes to the pan and it made the color of the green beans pop. “One item can make a difference in everything,” Zimmer said.

Sodexo staff serving Columbia College students.
Photo Credit: Skye Shaw

The caterers are key to the artistic elements. The fancy dinners that the first-years attend, the open houses and the special guest speaker dinners are all catered by Columbia College Sodexo dining hall. When catering, everything has to look appetizing and delectable. The chefs must have a sense of artistic style when presenting and plating the food.
The week before finals is intense for the caterers. They have to provide food for SpearsFest, Future Koala Day, board meetings and more activities happening on campus. Each event has about 50-70 people attending. They must provide breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner for most of the events.
Cooking is an art but also a science at the same time. There is so much precision needed to be successful when cooking, such as temperatures, proportions and time.
Everything the chefs serve has a detailed recipe book of how each item needs to be prepared. When cooking for such a large number of people, the proportions must be measured correctly, or the food will not taste good. There will either not be enough food or there will be too much.
The chefs must cook everything long enough or the food will be raw or undercooked. It is easy to overcook or undercook when preparing food for large groups of people. The cooking time must be down to a precise science to be successful. The chefs have a booklet of how long everything should be cooked in order for it to be safe enough to serve to the public.
Sodexo has multiple guidelines the chefs must follow for the kitchen to be clean, healthy and prosperous. Every employee must pass a Servsafe exam periodically throughout their employment at Columbia College. This test is rigorous, and it takes weeks of preparation and studying in order to pass.

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