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From Farm to Table, but Hardly Rustic
A Review of Ursino, at Kean University
By KARLA COOK
WHEN I hear the words “farm to table,” I picture an old white clapboard inn, with gardens all around. Ursino, an ambitious farm-to-table restaurant on the campus of Kean University in Union, is in a hulking glass and metal building that fronts Morris Avenue.
According to Peter Turso, the executive chef, Ursino appealed to the university’s administration as a place for high-level entertaining and as a way to raise the school’s profile and make it more attractive to prospective students.
Ramsay de Give for The New York Times
MODERN COOL Under huge windows, diners at Ursino on the Kean University campus sit on cushy furniture while enjoying nuanced food.
As a whole, the space brings to mind hard cash, not warmth and delicious plenty. But Mr. Turso transcends the chill, possibly because a four-acre farm on campus managed by Henry Dreyer, a third-generation farmer, supplies crops, including beets, cilantro and spinach, for the kitchen.
“The connection to nature roots me,” said Mr. Turso, a New Jersey native and a 2001 graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, speaking on the telephone after my visits. That is reflected in the cooking: Flavors are clean and pure and concepts are solid, with amusing grace notes (though uncertain and uninformed servers were an occasional distraction on our visits). Mr. Turso and his team turn out mostly very good, nuanced food, albeit with more meat and fewer vegetables than ideal.
Among the appetizers, the house-smoked swordfish with shaved fennel pulled me in with the menu’s promise of pea tendrils, but my portion, while satisfying in its smoky undertone and balance of flavors, contained only seven slender tendrils. Beet salad, too, suffered from a minimalist treatment, though the carrots, mâche and candied walnuts helped me forget the beet deficit. The luxuriant early-summer greens, with snap beans, fava beans, asparagus and pecorino cheese, were more in keeping with the image of farm-to-table. Mussels in coconut curry, served with shrimp toast, were agreeably spiced, though the mussels contained bits of grit and were less than plump.
Less successful starters were the grilled octopus, mushy inside and charred at the tips, over a sticky smoked Marcona almond purée; and a portion of handmade cavatelli, artichokes, olives, arugula and crisp shallots that did not transcend its components.
Except for a slightly overseared halibut beneath a pleasingly crispy crust, the meats and seafood in the main dishes were uniformly well prepared, as I expected of Mr. Turso, who has worked with the chefs David Drake (at Restaurant David Drake in Rahway, now closed) and Nicholas Harary (at Restaurant Nicholas in Middletown).
Indeed, the meats were table favorites, tender and juicy: roasted veal loin with barigoule and its typical ingredient of artichoke, accompanied by nutty green Picholine olives; grilled pork loin with tiny herbed spaetzle, pickled red cabbage and hen-of-the-woods mushrooms; Lancaster sirloin with its reconstructed potato (mashed and stuffed back into the shell, then browned) and sautéed red watercress; and pan-seared duck with honey-glazed, gingered baby beets and Swiss chard.
Vegetables, however, should star — in both flavor and quantity — at any place with a four-acre farm. Ursino has nailed the flavor, but on my two visits, the quantities were uneven. On my first visit, five beautifully seared Barnegat scallops came with maybe a half-dozen dice-size pieces of turnip, about the same number of raspberry-size orbs of Fuji apple, and a few leaves of radicchio ceviche. On my second visit, a companion ordered the same dish, and the supporting players were more plentiful.
Desserts — all house-made by Kathleen Grosch, the pastry chef — were another high point, particularly the lemon ricotta ice cream sandwich; the deconstructed sangria with dabs of orange sorbet, chestnut honey, compressed orange, poached apple and micro borage scattered across a huge plate; and a moan-worthy warm chocolate cake. The cheese plate contained three selections from Valley Shepherd Creamery, of Long Valley: Nettlesome and Tewksbury, both cows’ milk cheeses, and my favorite, Pepato, a mild aged sheep’s milk cheese with bits of peppercorn.
Mr. Turso and his team have the skills to put Ursino on the culinary map; sharp, focused and knowledgeable servers would further the effort.
1075 Morris Avenue
THE SPACE Stylish restaurant with seating for 74 (including a private dining room seating up to 12), and 35 seats on an outdoor patio; the bar upstairs seats 30 indoors and 45 outdoors. Ample space between tables; elevator access.
THE CROWD Quiet and dressy; very few children. Servers are pleasant but uninformed.
THE BAR List of 72 carefully chosen, mostly domestic wines by the bottle, $45 to $95, and 12 by the glass from $9 to $10. Three domestic craft beers on draft, $6. A short bar menu includes pizzas, burgers and some seafood, $11 to $18.
THE BILL Lunch items, $9 to $18. Dinner main dishes, $23 to $32. MasterCard, Visa, American Express accepted.
WHAT WE LIKED Smoked swordfish, beet salad, early summer greens, halibut, veal loin, pork loin, sirloin steak, scallops, duck breast, lemon ricotta ice cream sandwich, deconstructed sangria, chocolate cake, cheese plate.
IF YOU GO Lunch: Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dinner, Monday through Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m.; Friday, 5:30 to 11 p.m.; and Saturday, 5 to 11 p.m. Closed Sunday. There is plenty of parking next to the building. Reservations recommended on weekends.
RATINGS Don’t Miss, Worth It, O.K., Don’t Bother.
NEW! GOHBio 1001 eliminates tons (literally) of waste!
Manhattan College achieved Fair Trade status, the first College in New York City to achieve this status. Gourmet Dining worked together with the students of Manhattan College to provide Fair Trade foods available for purchase on campus. Manager Nick Valinotti teamed up with students to procure fair trade items like Bananas, Coffee, Tea, Chocolate, Dried Fruits, Sugar and more. These items are sold across dining venues, especially in Cafe 1853, the All Natural Cafe.
Gourmet Dining is proud to serve Fair Trade products, and to support initiatives that better the lives of people in our communities and abroad.
Read about the story in the Riverdale Press
Manhattan College To Receive Fair Trade College Status on Feb. 16
RIVERDALE, N.Y., Feb. 9, 2012 – For the last five years, Manhattan College has worked to expand fair trade to campus as part of the College’s commitment to social responsibility, and as a result, will be the first college in New York City to receive Fair Trade College status. On Thursday, Feb. 16, a steering committee from Fair Trade Colleges and Universities in partnership with Fair Trade USA will honor Manhattan College with a certificate of achievement at a gathering on campus at 3:30 p.m. in Café 1853.
“Campus ministry and social action, along with the student group JustPeace have been raising awareness about fair trade since 2007,” said Gwendolyn A. Tedeschi, Ph.D., assistant professor of economics. “But this year, working with a great and diverse group of people across campus, including Gourmet Dining and the eFollett Bookstore, we’ve brought our fair trade campaign to a new level.”
The Manhattan College community is dedicated to globally reducing poverty and building sustainable businesses by carrying fair trade products within all campus dining halls, restaurants, cafes and the bookstore. The majority of fair trade-certified products in the United States are monitored by Fair Trade USA, a nonprofit 501(c) 3 organization that manages transactions between U.S. companies and international suppliers. Through a regimented process, Fair Trade USA ensures farmers and workers receive fair prices and wages, work in safe conditions, and provide tools, training and resources to help a community thrive.
“Fair trade practices respect human dignity and are committed to social justice, important elements of our mission,” said Lois Harr, director of campus ministry and social action and adjunct instructor of religious studies. “As a Fair Trade College, we can put our values into action everyday in clear and concrete ways.”
In order to educate students and employees further on the importance of fair trade, the College has also made a conscientious effort to schedule lectures, guest speakers, film screenings and tastings of fair trade products throughout campus. For example, the College’s campus ministry and social action department hosted two presentations on fair trade coffee farming in El Salvador and Mexico. In addition, professors have also added the subject of fair trade in the classroom and led discussions on fair trade within international studies, sociology, economics and M.B.A. courses. In particular, one student conducted a research project on marketing fair trade products at the College, and three M.B.A. students won second place in a national competition for a case study on Equal Exchange: Trading Fairly and Making a Profit.
Along with making students aware of fair trade, the College hosted a faculty development session on the topic in October. As a whole, the College has conveyed the message of fair trade through several channels, such as the student-run newspaper, the alumni e-newsletter and social media channels.
“Catholic Relief Services (CRS) congratulates Manhattan College in its achievement of Fair Trade College status, and we at CRS have been gratified to witness the deepening commitments the College has made to fair trade principles as a demonstration of Lasallian tradition and engagement with CRS programming,” said Jackie DeCarlo, manager of CRS domestic programs. “By involving students, administrators and faculty in a series of awareness-building and learning activities, as well as working steadfastly on procurement policies that focus on farmers, the College has distinguished itself both as a Catholic educational institution and important CRS ally.”
As part of the Feb. 16 Fair Trade Colleges status event, Brennan O’Donnell, Ph.D., president of Manhattan College, will accept the certificate on behalf of the College. He will also make a few remarks on the importance of the College’s longstanding mission to social justice through promoting fair trade all over campus and the local community.
Members of the media who would like to cover the event should call Liz Connolly Bauman, assistant director of communications at Manhattan College, at (718) 862-7232 or email email@example.com.
About Manhattan College:
Manhattan College is located at West 242nd Street near Broadway in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, one mile from the Westchester County line and accessible by MTA subway line No. 1. For directions to the campus, visit www.manhattan.edu.
Founded in 1853, Manhattan College is an independent, Lasallian Catholic, coeducational institution of higher learning offering more than 40 major programs of undergraduate study in the areas of arts, business, education, engineering and science, along with continuing and professional studies, and a graduate division. For more information about Manhattan College, visit www.manhattan.edu.
Peter Fischbach: Complacency Killer
At the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Peter Fischbach wages war on the status quo.
PETER FISCHBACH has transformed the dining services department at NEW JERSEY INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY by:
• DEVELOPING a vast series of specials and monotony breakers to keep dining fresh for customers
• CREATING an authentic Indian/Asian concept as part of a larger focus on ethnic cuisines
• WORKING with Gourmet Dining’s sustainability coordinator to
implement a rooftop garden and more local purchasing
• PROMOTING a healthy eating program that offers students choices rather than mandates
Peter Fischbach, New Jersey Institute of TechnologyPeter Fischbach considers complacency to be a dirty word, and the director of food services for Gourmet Dining Services at 9,500-student New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark, N.J., fights against it every day.
“Complacency is a killer,” Fischbach says. “A lot of people believe that if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. I believe the opposite. I believe if it’s not broke, break it and make it better. There is always room for improvement. You can always find a way to do things better and faster and more efficiently. The key is to stay up on current trends so you can keep the students interested in what [dining is] doing. The only way to do that is through a hands-on approach.”
It is this mind set that has made Fischbach [who is also regional director of culinary development for Gourmet Dining corporate] an effective director, according to Anthony Frungillo, vice president of operations for Madison, N.J.-based Gourmet Dining Services.
“Peter is an extremely driven individual with a passion for food and perfection,” Frungillo says. “He constantly raises the bar to never become complacent in what he or his staff does. Peter’s implementation of specials and interactivity has been paramount to help develop a strong sense of community involvement on campus.”
Frungillo also notes that Fischbach likes to compete whenever he gets the chance. This competitive streak helped give birth to one of the accomplishments of which Fischbach says he is most proud—the department’s monotony breakers and specials.
“I’m an extremely competitive person,” Fischbach says. “[Frungillo] always did special events at [another location] and then he wanted me to introduce them here. When I saw what he was doing I would always try to outdo whatever he was doing and he would [do the same]. It just turned into this rivalry amongst our college campuses of who can do the better special. We actually put out incentives where [staffs] would take pictures and whoever’s account had the best special would get a $200 gift card, just to keep that competitive spirit going. Some of the specials have really taken off.”
Fischbach says his monotony breakers started with a student “Iron Chef” competition, which eventually morphed into a competition based on the Food Network show “Chopped,” and then most recently into an event based on The Travel Channel’s “Man v. Food.”
“We’ve had ‘Man v. Food’ events for hot wings, five-pound hamburgers and Sicilian pizza,” Fischbach says. “We try to do at least three big events [like “Man v. Food] per semester, which is where we give away [a prize like] $200 in flex dollars or an iPad. We have other specials we run weekly, such as International Day [where dining focuses on the cuisine of a specific country] on Wednesdays.”
Another popular special event NJIT offers is a series of cooking classes called “Cooking with Pete,” which was one of the first outreach programs the department developed. Fischbach explains that the team wanted to become more engaged with the students and become a larger part of the campus community. One of the things staff suggested, he adds, was a cooking class.
“[At first] I did one or two classes, which were open to students, faculty and staff,” Fischbach says. “We had such tremendous success that we now try to offer three classes a semester. Every time we offer a class, it sells out. We usually get about 20 to 30 people. I’ll do a cooking demo and show the participants how to cook certain things. I’ll hand out pamphlets with the recipes and some cooking notes. Also, we’ll have a buffet of the food for them to sample and I answer any cooking questions they have.”
Coordinating and planning all these special events begins in the summer. The key for Fischbach is to get everyone on the team involved in brainstorming and planning the events and specials.
“We usually have a meeting with myself, the assistant director and the executive chef, and we’ll plan out what we want to do,” Fischbach says. “Then the chef will go back to the kitchen staff and [for example, for the International Day countries] he says, ‘we have five countries, but we need five more countries.’ We’ll get them involved and that way they have a say in what they are doing rather than just being told what they are doing. It keeps them motivated. With the big events we just try and see what would be fun, what the current trends are and see how we can fold that into what’s going on. Plus, we poll the students and ask them what they’d like to see.”
Adventures in ethnic: Fischbach’s passion for new flavors extends beyond the weekly International Day. Fischbach created an Indian/Asian retail concept called Café Spice in order to improve ethnic food options for customers.
We put in Café Spice about two years ago,” Fischbach says. “We actually revamped the space this past year. It now offers Indian classics such as channa masala and chicken tikka. We added some naan sandwiches and a Thai salad. We’ve had tremendous success. It’s not just Indian—we also have some Mediterranean items like spreads. Everything is halal so it [also] serves that community. We made the space brighter and a little friendlier. We also added some value meals where students could come in and get like samosas chaat, which would be a samosas, channa masala, naan bread and a lemonade or iced tea for $6. We worked on making [the food] more affordable.”
For International Day, Fischbach says the department has featured cuisine from countries like Portugal or Germany and also countries with lesser known cuisine such as Ethiopia or Liechtenstein. Fischbach says throwing these different countries into the mix also is good for the staff because it gives them a chance to do research and try new things.
“Green” team: One new project that Fischbach launched was to team with Gourmet Dining’s sustainability coordinator to install a rooftop garden.
“I worked with Julie Aiello [director of sustainability and marketing for Gourmet Dining] to make [sustainability-type initiatives] happen,” Fischbach says. “For the garden, I put the prototype garden up on the roof, and once she saw we had success with it, she is the one who expanded it.”
The 220-square-foot garden currently grows a variety of herbs and produce. The garden isn’t the department’s only source of local produce. Fischbach says about 30% of the department’s produce comes from the state of New Jersey. The produce is obtained through partnerships with farms that are willing to send to NJIT’s distributor without any special ordering.
Healthy habits: Something else that is new for the department is its focus on healthy menu items. Fischbach says the department recently installed a whole-grains bar, where the chefs are able to maximize the bounty from the rooftop garden.
“We’ll have a lemon parsley quinoa salad or a beet salad with farro or a honey pecan wild rice salad at the bar,” says Fischbach. “The bar has six different types of whole-grain salads every day. We utilize the rooftop garden whenever it’s available to put the produce into that bar.”
The department’s philosophy on healthy food is based on the fact that you can’t force people to eat healthy foods, Fischbach says.
“We try to work in healthy practices where they make sense,” Fischbach says. “You’ve got to give [customers] the options. One of the things we are in the process of doing is providing a way for students to count calories. That way even if students still wanted to get a hamburger they could see the calories and perhaps choose to get a healthy side. We are in the process of developing new nutritional cards that have a barcode that you can scan with your smartphone, which will tell you what the caloric count on that item is. Hopefully that will be in place by the middle of next semester or next fall. It’s a way for students to be healthy without having to be ‘healthy,’ so to speak. It’s a way to eat healthy without taking away the things they really want. You can’t make students eat healthy, but you can give them the opportunity to be healthy.”
Gourmet Dining Services announced its “Meatless Monday” initiative that will offer an increased amount of vegetarian meals every Monday at Seton Hall University, according to a news release from the Humane Society of the United States.
GDS has partnered with the Humane Society to provide students, faculty and staff with healthy and sustainable food in the caf, according to the release.
“GDS has been a wonderful partner in creating a more humane and sustainable world,” said Director of Corporate Policy for the Humane Society of the United States, Josh Balk. “They should get a lot of applause.”
The Humane Society has partnered with GDS for the last year and a half, according to Balk.
Seton Hall is one of many schools that will be participating in “Meatless Monday” with GDS. Others include New Jersey Institute of Technology, Kean University and Caldwell College.
“Dozens and dozens of schools are participating in meatless Monday,” Balk said. “It’s pretty interesting.”
According to Balk, being a vegetarian every Monday will make a tremendous difference.
“By participating in ‘Meatless Mondays’ everyone can help improve animal welfare while also saving money,” Balk said.
Balk said the initiative has many benefits, one being the environment.
“When we eat lower on the food chain, we conserve resources,” Balk said. “I would say the effort is a fun and encouraging way to help people make a choice that is more humane,” Balk said.
According to Balk, this initiative not only helps animals but is healthy for individuals.
The news release said those who eat fewer animal products have lower rates of weight gain, dementia, arthritis and other health problems.
Balk said this initiative is not meant to be pushed on people.
“It isn’t about being the big brother; it is about helping guide people.”
Kellogg’s Food Away From Home would like to thank the Gourmet Dining team for their effort in last September’s and October’s Help Fight Hunger promotion.
Thanks to the tremendous participation of Fairleigh Dickson University, Kean University, Manhattan College, New Jersey Institute of Technology and Seton Hall University students, 33,600 ounces of Kellogg’s® cereal was donated to the Community Food Bank of New Jersey as well as 6,720 ounces of cereal to the City Harvest food bank. Both food banks chose to receive their cereal donation in the form of retail boxes. As such, the Community Food Bank of New Jersey now has 2,800 retail boxes and the City Harvest food bank has 560 retail boxes of cereal to feed the hungry.
Thanks again for your participation!
Gourmet Dining Kicks off the New Year with Meatless Monday Campaign
Madison, NJ (January 5, 2012) – As part of its commitment to provide students, faculty, and staff with healthy, sustainable fare, Gourmet Dining is starting out the New Year by participating in the Meatless Monday initiative, a multinational effort supported by the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health to promote environmental sustainability, animal welfare and human health. Gourmet Dining offers meat-free meals in its university accounts seven days a week and will participate in Meatless Monday by offering an increased number of vegetarian meals every Monday and encouraging diners to give them a try.
Starting in January 2012, Gourmet Dining will implement Meatless Monday at all of its accounts including Seton Hall University, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Kean University, Fairleigh Dickinson University, Bergen Community College, Caldwell Community College, New Jersey City University, and Manhattan College.
“Gourmet Dining is committed to ensuring the good health of our students, and being a good steward to our planet and animals, which is why we’re participating in Meatless Monday,” said Julie Aiello, director of marketing and sustainability for Gourmet Dining. “The New Year is a time for people to make a fresh start and resolve to make healthier habits. We hope that eating meat-free meals at the start of each week will help our guests make healthier, more humane eating decisions throughout the week.”
Josh Balk, outreach director of farm animal protection for the Humane Society of the United States praised Gourmet Dining’s participation in Meatless Monday saying, “Farm animals are individuals with distinct personalities and have the capacity to suffer, yet on factory farms, they are often treated more like machines. Going meat-free one day a week can help protect animals and the planet at the same time.”
Many individuals and institutions are going meatless on Monday out of concern for the billions of animals who are raised for the dinner table. Going meat-free one day a week can help improve public health too: People who eat fewer animal products have lower rates of weight gain, dementia, arthritis, high blood pressure, kidney disease, and other health problems.
A 2011 report issued by Environmental Working Group recommended eating less meat and cheese due to the vast amounts of chemical fertilizers, fuel, pesticides, feed, and water their production requires. And the UN estimates the meat, egg and dairy industries generate a huge portion of the man-made greenhouse gas emissions that accelerate climate change.
Other Meatless Monday participants include Oprah Winfrey, Sir Paul McCartney, Gwyneth Paltrow, Russell Simmons, Simon Cowell, and Al Gore; dozens of colleges and universities; hospitals; and the entire Baltimore Public School System. For more information, see The Humane Society of the United States’ Guide to Meat-Free Meals.
Ursino, the Farm to Table restaurant on the Kean University campus provided their latest samples at the Link Community School Fundraiser, “A Taste of Newark.” Ursino, which opened in October, is operated by Gourmet Dining. To learn more about the restaurant, visit http://www.ursinorestaurant.com/
Gourmet Dining Services has started using a new system for taking orders in areas outside the buffet dining room such as the Cove and Leafs & Grains.
Students and employees seem to agree that the change, which allows students to receive numbered receipts, is a positive one.
In the past, when a student wanted to order a wrap from Leafs & Grains, they would fill out a form with their name on it specifying what they wanted. If they were ordering from the Cove, the employee would take down the students name and then announce the student’s name when his or her meal was ready.
Now, however, students give their orders to the employee, who prints out a receipt with the student’s order number. The student gets a copy of the receipt, which also tells them how much money is left on their Pirates Bucks or Gold account, as well.
When their food is prepared, the order number is called out for the student to get it.
Sophomore Sarina Roth said that she really liked the new ticket system.
“I can tell how much money I have left in my account without having to stand on my tippy toes and look over the register.”
“It’s nice that…they finally give their customers a receipt,” Roth said.
Freshman Nadeen Ibrahim agreed that the change was a beneficial one.
“I feel like it’s a lot easier than filling out a piece of paper,” Ibrahim said.
He added that the change also tends to make the lines at the popular eating venues move more quickly.
Junior Akiti Kohli also felt the changes were helpful.
“I actually got my food (today), so that’s a start,” she said of ordering in the Cove.
“It’s easier because you don’t have to listen for a name,” Kohli said.
Kohli added that many times it is loud in the Cove and difficult to hear names, especially for students who have names that are difficult to pronounce.
Kohli also said that using the number system lessens the chance someone else with the same or a similar name would accidentally take someone else’s food.
“I’m a commuter so ordering (at the Cove’s) a big thing,” Kohli said.
First year graduate student Anna Avanseyan, who has ordered from Leafs & Grains, said she didn’t think the numbered receipt made a big difference, in fact, she hadn’t even really noticed the change.
She did, however, feel the receipt system was greener than filling out a big piece of paper.
“It conserves paper and saves trees,” Avanseyan said.
Gourmet Dining Services Employee Jim Festa, who works in the Cove, said the change has helped employees as well.
“It speeds the process up,” Festa said of the numbered receipt system.
The receipt system was introduced for a limited amount of time at the very beginning of the school year, however it is unclear why it was taken away and then introduced again, or why Dining Services decided to make the change.
Calls to Dining Services were directed to the Office of Business Affairs, but representatives were unable to respond by press time.
Caitlin Carroll can be reached at Caitlin.firstname.lastname@example.org