Bon Appetit changes culinary stations, responds to student comments

Macalester students who have eaten at Cafe Mac in past years may have noticed some differences in the variety and presentation of food in the cafeteria this year. The most visible culinary changes have taken place at the Grill station.

In terms of new food items, students are chiefly concerned about potatoes and potato products. There has seemingly been a proliferation of potatoes at Cafe Mac this semester, with multiple varieties of fries frequently being offered at lunch and dinner, in addition to tater tots and mashed potatoes. In previous years, however, fries were not offered nearly as often. Students have commented on the conspicuously large amounts of other fried foods at the Grill and at the south stations.

Bon Appetit Head Chef Royal Dahlstrom said these changes are intentional.

“We consider the Grill an all-American grill station, and all-American would be burgers, chicken, sausage, veggie burgers, and french fries,” Dahlstrom said. “We thought that people would want two different kinds of fries, and so we alternate between shoestring, curly and sweet potato fries, onion rings and more.”

This is a change from years past, where the rotating or specialty meat entree would also usually be served at the Grill station, but this alteration is also part of the broader plan.

“Last year the specialty meat or entree would often be at the Grill, but we are now having it exclusively at the South One station, the south station nearest the Grill,” Dahlstrom said.

Dahlstrom has worked on offering a wide array of these speciality entrees at South One, as well as introducing a new concept for the South Two station.

“Sometimes the entree at South One will be carved roast beef, and we’ve also done quesadillas, turkey sloppy joes, garlic roast beef, fried chicken—a variety of American comfort food. We now have a chili bar at South One every day and have introduced curries and related foods from India and Thailand at South Two. Quite a few of the dishes [at South Two] are vegetarian or vegan, except for Fridays,” Dahlstrom said.

The question of vegetarian and vegan options is something that Dahlstrom and his team at Cafe Mac are actively working to provide.

“We’ve got a lot of folks that want vegetarian and vegan items, and they are the ones who are currently clamoring for more options than carnivores are,” Dahlstrom said. “We want to give enough options to everybody.”

Another concern students have shared is the overall amount of fried food that has occasionally been offered — with one day when the South One station featured entirely fried food as a prime example. As it turns out, this was an experiment during a period of short staff.

“At the beginning of the season, we were really short staffed and did a fried food sampler with mozzarella sticks, onion rings and other items, and more kids chose that than the healthier options. We have to give them what they want,” Dahlstrom said.

Giving Mac students what they want, more and more, also includes offering local and organic food.

“We want to give the diversity of what students want and need, and we source locally as much as we can. Right now, potatoes are being harvested in Minnesota, and we’re trying to use that source. We can’t get white rice locally, for example. Cafe Mac is trying to round the corner with service and styles of food, and trying to hire chefs who can put out quality food for all students. If you look in our storeroom, probably 90 percent of our food gets made on site, and we’re working with many local suppliers,” Dahlstrom said.

Of the visible changes this year, the improved collection and response to student comments is among the most apparent.

“We want to have a nice diversity, and if somebody is craving something, they can submit a comment and we’ll try to get it on the menu rotation. We’re trying to sign and directly respond to the comment cards, which are being posted right outside Cafe Mac, but I can only leave them up for a couple days because there’s been so many lately,” Dahlstrom said.

In past years, said Peter Abrahamson, Bon Appetit General Manager, “The comment cards were put in the box and I don’t know if anything was done with them, but now we’re trying to open up a dialogue. We’ve been getting good feedback, and that’s the whole idea. We want to know what students want.”

Students with questions and concerns about food at Cafe Mac are encouraged to fill out a comment card and place it on the comment board outside Cafe Mac.