The mention of dining hall food tends to conjure up images of soggy pizza and stale burger buns. Not so with Grinnell’s dining hall. This past year, Grinnell made The Daily Meal’s list of the 75 best colleges for food in America.
Dining services has a number of ways to make sure the food in the dining hall is deserving of recognition. More than 90 percent of the food in the dining hall is prepared entirely from scratch. Grinnell’s chefs insist on it. They enjoy the opportunity to flex their culinary muscles and believe it’s important to know exactly what goes into the dining hall food. Dining Services’ pantry processes around a quarter of a million fresh fruits and vegetables each year.
The College makes use of as much locally sourced food as it can. The relatively short growing season of the Midwest does present some difficulties. Although a student-run garden provides a sizeable quantity of herbs for the kitchen.
Every summer, Grinnell’s chefs have the opportunity to come up with and test new dishes for the coming school year. Dick Williams, director of dining services, enjoys summers in Grinnell for that reason. “I’m kind of a dessert guy,” he says, “so I’m a big fan of our new vegan chocolate chip cookie.” This year more than 90 new items made their way into the dining hall.
Williams oversees Grinnell’s dining operations, which includes directing 10 chefs certified by the American Culinary Federation. These chefs consult with Scott Turley, the College’s executive chef, when creating new dishes. Turley is the recipient of the bronze medal in The National Association of College and University Food Services’ Culinary Challenge.
Some students are unapologetically enthusiastic about the food in the dining hall: "Each day is the return of a dish I'd forgotten I've missed,” says Michael Kelley ’16. And everyone has a favorite dish. “All of my favorite foods are the ones where they try interesting flavor combinations and it works, for example a burger with pepperoni, onions, mushrooms, and banana peppers on it,” says Sandy Barnard ’17. Barnard likes a lot of variety in her food and will often go to the spice rack to add extra flavors.
“For me it’s all about choice — giving students as many options as we can,” says Williams, who also serves on the Dining Committee, which advises Dining Services. Students are a major part of the Dining Committee, which Williams says is especially active at Grinnell. In addition to Williams, the committee consists of six students appointed by the Student Government Association, four staff members, and one faculty member. Students, faculty, and staff are encouraged to submit recipes to Dining Services. The chefs take these recipes, scale them up, and try them out to see if they could become permanent fixtures in the College’s dining hall. “We rely very heavily on our student members and implement changes based on their suggestions,” Williams says.