New Year, New Me. New Semester, New Eats

By Carleigh Reynolds

Hello, Ravens! It’s me, Carleigh, your campus Food Ambassador, resident food blogger, Instagram enthusiast, et cetera. I’m reporting to you live about the only thing that matters: lunch.

It’s 2018 so you might be in the ‘New Year, New Me’ mindset. January 1st provides the opportunity for a fresh start, a new look, and new eating habits. Carleton Dining is doing the same thing. This semester, two brand new Food Court locations with all new menus have been unveiled and are open for business. First, there’s Medi Eats, which serves Mediterranean meals and has an entirely gluten-free menu. Second, is Chez Anh, which cooks up Vietnamese French fusion dishes like Pho and Banh Mi. In order to get the scoop on how these changes came to be, I chatted with Joe Farrell, the Menu Development Program Manager at Aramark Canada’s Test Kitchen, who was behind the creation of this exciting new menu.

Carleigh: What does it mean to be the Menu Development Program Manager for Aramark Canada and what kind of work do you do for Carleton?

Joe: I work on Aramark’s proprietary brands and the brands specific to Carleton as well. I do my research, I collect information from as many sources as possible, and make decisions on what the menu is going to look like. I look at food trends, consumer insights, student feedback and what our staff is saying. I just try to collect as much information as possible and formulate that into something that is tasty and delicious.

Carleigh: What’s a Test Kitchen and what is it like to work in one?

Joe: It’s fun. The best way I can describe it is, it’s kind of like a dream job for a creative culinary mind. Though I’m not saying I am one. I get to be surrounded by interesting, driven, and passionate people.  I get to formulate how a recipe is going to work and how it will be implemented. I get to come up with creative ways to solve problems and get the most delicious product at the end, that anyone is able to repeat at any skill level in the kitchen. It’s a challenge but it’s an enjoyable one.

Carleigh: How did you get into this field and how did you know this was the career path for you?

Joe: I started cooking when I was seventeen. I went to school for business first and I cooked through business school. Then I got a job with a bank and something didn’t feel right about it. Life was going down a path where I needed to get my life back on track. Cooking gave me the structure and stability to get my life on a good path. For that I am extremely grateful. I just wanted to share my love and passion for cooking with people. I eventually went back to school and did my Red Seal.

One major problem with large-scale cooking is you can feel disconnected from the people you serve, especially in restaurants. You kind of feel like the food is going into a black hole. But in my experience helping out at Aramark locations, there’s a level of interaction with people that you don’t normally get in restaurants. I’m able to share my passion and love for food with a wide audience, be creative, and have a positive impact on people’s lives through food.

Carleigh: I know you designed some of the new menu items in Carleton’s Food Court. Are there any locations or items you’re really excited about?

Joe: I’ll start with Medi Eats and that’s the gluten-free concept. We try and partner with as many local suppliers as possible. So we’ve partnered with Pete’s Gluten Free. He’s worked with us to create a product that we’re able to steam, so the dough becomes malleable. You typically won’t find a gluten-free pita. They’re typically a little dryer. If you don’t have gluten, it won’t have that strength and stability. So we figured out how to steam it and then lightly put it on the grill to give it some colour. I’m really proud of that because it’s a really fun innovation.

At Burger 101, they’ve started using St. Albert’s Cheese Curds. I can’t take credit for this. There’s a team at Carleton working on this and doing a phenomenal job. They are really trying to work with farmers and bring local products in. I think its very exciting to see how the relationship is going to evolve.

Carleigh: I noticed on your website that you were passionate about farm-to-table style eating and minimalist recipes. What does that mean and how have you incorporated those styles and values into the menu?

Joe: I was working in a big restaurant in Toronto. It was 500 seats. I felt very disconnected from the food. So I literally gave up my apartment and gave up my job. I needed to reconnect with the land and food. I needed a deeper understanding of what food is and what it means in terms of overall wellbeing. I found myself in a community where I was able to explore that. It comes down to good technique and respecting the ingredients. I always say ‘good food for good minds, and good minds for good food’. That’s what that experience taught me.

Bringing that philosophy to what I do for Carleton, you don’t have to have tons of sauces. You don’t have to take away from the natural flavours of things. You can just compliment them. If you go for really simple things, you can understand and appreciate the ingredients that you’re using. If you go to Colonel By Chicken, La Cocina, or Burger 101, they’re not fancy or overly complicated things but they are very tasty. That comes down to understanding how ingredients work together and treating them with respect.

Carleigh: What goes into designing a new recipe?

Joe: It starts with feedback from students. We work with our suppliers to make sure we meet those needs. In terms of what goes into the recipes, we try to keep variety and have something for everyone, so you never have to go off campus to get a meal. We try and stay on top of food trends. It’s very much driven by what the students are looking for. The more feedback we have, that’s the best thing to guide us.

Carleigh: Are you going to be doing more work with Carleton and is there anything we can expect for later this semester?

Joe: I’m actually in the process right now of talking to the team, especially on the retail side of things, about what the next round will look like. We’re looking to launch the next round of Limited Time Offers the first week back after reading week. I don’t know what it’s going to be, but I can tell you it’s going to be delicious.

Carleigh: For students that might be interested in exploring food, what advice would you give them

Joe: When I was writing a column for the Two Row Times, one thing I always talked about was building people’s confidence and capacity in the kitchen. It can be very intimidating, especially when you see recipes with lots of ingredients and lots of  techniques you’ve never heard of. My best advice is to get out there and engage with food. I was talking to some people last week in Toronto.  I brought some seeds to share because I like to think about Spring and new life. This one woman was asking questions so I told her “Put it in the ground, give it some love, and see what happens.” That’s pretty much the same thing you have to do with food. Just get in there, have some fun with it, and connect with it in a way that’s relatable to you. You might learn something.

You heard it here first guys. Student feedback has a legitimate impact on the menu. Also recipe design is a super creative career path. I am now 507% more inspired to practice cooking, explore new cuisines, and try out the new Food Court locations and menu items. Spoiler Alert, I have already tried the Banh Mi at Chez Anh and it is now my go-to meal when I’m running between classes.

Feeling enlightened? Or just hungry? Connect with me to share your thoughts on the new menu or just follow my food journey on Instagram.

Munch on, Ravens!

Monday, January 22, 2018 in , ,
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