Every Miami University student has a favorite item from the dining halls; be it the unlimited mac-n-cheese in the buffet locations or the jumbo smiley faced cookie. What they might not know about is the complex, Willy-Wonka-esque operation that brings the item to their table.
Much of the food served on Miami’s campus is produced centrally at the Demske Culinary Support Center and then transferred to each location on a daily basis. The center, which is located by Kroger and used to be a Kroger building itself, is much larger than it appears from the outside.
Behind the front offices is a busy factory environment. There are 12 rooms, including a bakery, a docking station and a freezer large enough to fit eight semi trucks side by side kept at a chilly -20 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Miami University Executive Chef Eric Yung.
Inside the rooms are about 30 employees, whose duties range from operating an industrial oven in the bakery or preparing soup in 100-gallon cooking kettles to loading inventory into a refrigerated truck to be sent out to the dining halls.
At the head of the operation is Yung.
Yung, who has been with the university for four years, attended culinary school at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. Yung grew up on a farm in Northern Kentucky and said his experiences there sparked his interest in cooking.
“I got a chance to see how something very simple that came from the ground could become a really wonderful meal with only a minimum amount of ingredients added to it,” Yung said.
The idea that the best food is fresh food became a theme in his culinary experiences, one that was further emphasized during time at a bed and breakfast in Maine.
“The menu was sourced within 60 miles of his [the owner’s] front door,” Yung said. “It’s the quality of the ingredients that you bring in that make a dish pretty special.”
Yung said bringing quality ingredients and fresh food to Miami is a top priority, and one that he will get a chance to influence with the three new dining locations coming to campus.
The new locations, Maplestreet Station, the Armstrong Student Center and Western Dining Commons, will host 20 entirely new dining concepts. For example, Maplestreet will include a gourmet hamburger station with fresh-cut French fries and all-breakfast-all-day venue, among other things.
With each concept, there will be a number of different food items, each requiring new recipes and ingredients, which is where Yung comes in.
“In Maplestreet we want to have a very authentic Vietnamese Spring Roll,” Yung said. “First, we want to do a lot of research on the item and what sorts of things should go in there, talk to students that have experience with the item, maybe reach out to an area restaurant that produces authentic Vietnamese food.”
After conducting research on an item, Yung helps to develop a number of different recipes for that particular item. Students and staff at the culinary support center then test the recipes.
“Everything that is up to test is a numbered item, [the testers] have a separate numbered sheet,” Yung said. “They will go through the flavors, the textures, etcetera and put numeric ratings on those things.”
Once the products have been tested and reviewed, recipes will be tweaked to establish a final recipe.
The testing, Yung said, is what ensures a quality, consistent product.
Beyond the new locations, Yung hopes to continue introducing healthy, fresh foods.
“I think one of the things you will start to see is a lot more action stations, where a culinarian will prepare the food fresh in front of students.” Yung said. “It’s fresh, it reduces waste, and it’s more customizable to the customer’s wants.”
All the innovations will only add to students like first year Natalie Turner’s satisfaction with Miami dining.
“I think that they try really hard to put different things in each dining hall,” Turner said. “I haven’t gotten sick of it yet, which is a good thing. I know I have friends from other schools that eat the same thing every day because they don’t have the same variety.”
Senior Matt Andersen has the off-campus meal plan and he also said the variety of food on campus makes the Miami dining experience better.
“I’m kind of bummed that the new places are going to open after I graduate,” Andersen said. “They seem cool. I bet they’ll be expensive though.”