In a windowless kitchen on the third floor of UConn’s Student Union, Rob Landolphi carefully plates a serving of his award-winning Vegan Crab Cakes (above). The culinary operations manager of campus dining services enjoys his job — and it’s a big one.
Landolphi oversees the feeding of what amounts to a small city of about 30,000 people. Under his direction, eight dining halls and assorted campus food venues, including eight cafès, a food court, a food truck, and Chuck & Augie’s restaurant, serve well over 200,000 meals a week. Annually, his department dishes up nearly 5.8 million meals in Storrs alone, making UConn’s dining plan one of the largest in the country in terms of meals served.
Coming up with dishes that appeal to the diverse palates and dietary needs of such a large campus community is a never-ending process that is equal parts art and science. In formulating recipes, Landolphi and his team factor in sales and meal plan data, on- and off-campus culinary trends, feedback from student focus groups, food allergies, and ethnic dishes for the growing number of international students.
“Kids are more discriminating about food than they have ever been,” he says. “We’re all about seasonal, sustainable, locally sourced food that’s as clean as possible, and bigger, bolder flavors.”
Recently his team ran the numbers to find the ten best sellers across all campus venues. Not surprisingly, students went for comfort and convenience first: the top three sellers are Mac & Cheese (made with organic milk, butter, and Cabot cheese), Chicken Parmesan, and Buffalo Chicken Wrap. But crepes and Cubanos also made the list. The days of cafeteria menus featuring liver and onions, tuna casserole, and chicken à la king — three dishes Landolphi found on some old UConn menus — are long gone.
This spring UConn became one of a select few public universities in the U.S. to achieve the nonprofit Green Restaurant Association’s “green” certification for every dining hall on campus, based on practices used at each site to promote environmental sustainability.
That’s not enough for Landolphi. He is part of a nationwide effort to expand the number of plant-based dishes on campus menus. As a member of Menus for Change, UConn has committed to increasing the number of fish- and plant-based offerings by 20 percent this year while reducing the amount of meat on the menu by 10 percent. This year Dining Services also began serving a blended burger that adds mushrooms to reduce fat and calories.
Even with all this innovation, some student habits stay tried and true. “I love the jalapeño poppers,” says Courtney Dawless ’18 (ENG).
Keyion Dixon ’20 (ED) says he enjoys a bowl of Fruity Pebbles every night after studying, “It’s fast and easy.”
“Last night, I had French toast for dinner,” says Sara Nelson ’18 (ENG). “Sometimes I have pancakes. It’s college. Anything goes.” —Loretta WAldman
TOP 10 best sellers
- Mac & Cheese,
Union Street Market
- Chicken Parmesan,
- Buffalo Chicken Wrap,
South Grab and Go
- Mediterranean Salmon Salad,
Chuck and Augie’s
- Trumbull Smoked Turkey Sandwich,
- Crepe Station,
- Chicken Apple Chipotle Burger,
One Plate, Two Plates
- Garlicky Cheesy Pull- Apart Bread,
- Cubano Sandwich,
- “Not So Crabby” Vegan Crab Cakes,