Deluxe Feasts at Virginia Tech Earn Honors

D2 offers a variety of dessert options, including chocolate cake. Photo by Deepa Shivaram

On-campus dining boasts two decades worth of accolades and has gained a reputation nationwide due to its top-level university food. In particular, Dietrick Hall’s multiple facilities have been praised for their unique aspects including a wide range of meals, according to Amanda Snediker, food production manager.

Virginia Tech takes claim to dining-related awards dating back to 1992—the Princeton Review lists Tech as No. 3 for Best Campus Food in 2012 and No. 1 in 2009. Student-driven College Prowler rates campus dining an A+ and even First Lady Michelle Obama described Tech cuisine as “the best campus food you’ll ever eat” during her recent commencement address in Blacksburg.

Dietrick Dining Center’s self-operating system includes diverse food options, inexpensive yet high-quality products, and receptiveness to customers.

An exclusive option for caffeine addicts is located on the bottom floor of Dietrick—Deet’s Place, a coffee shop unique to Tech which roasts their own beans, offering fair trade coffee and a special “Hokie Blend.”

Also located on the lower level of Dietrick Hall, DXpress is an extremely popular, nearly 24-hour eating facility that is open only during the school year, providing hot and cold food for students to grab on the go.

The upper floor is comprised of eight widely varying shops that make up D2, the only “all-you-can-eat” facility on campus. D2, which was radically redesigned in 2004 from a previous cafeteria-like style, now relies on a “mise en place” philosophy—a French dining style meaning “everything in place.” This allows dishes to be prepared quickly in batches in front of the diners, keeping food fresh even during crowded mealtimes.

Dining Services constantly makes an effort to tweak, improve, or throw out less popular items.

“We’re on a rotational cycle menu,” Snediker said of D2. “We’ll serve pretty much the same menu for a week.” The next week’s menu will have different options.  D2 food is also sometimes offered on multiple-week cycles.

D2 uses Blacksburg meat and vegetables from Kentland Farms in its dishes, offering meat that is grown, harvested, and processed locally. However, these products do not make up the majority of D2’s meals.

New Student Orientation provides Dining Services with the opportunity to serve new students who will become frequent diners, as well as their parents.

“We’ve tried to take a good sampling [of foods]…so they get a good idea of what these kids would see over a period of time,” said Kelvin Bergsten, assistant director of Dining Services.

As well as customary D2 food, the facility incorporates other menu items that can be found on campus during orientation.

Some campus favorites include barbecue chicken pizza, tortellini, barbecue hot dogs, pear and goat cheese salad, Mississippi mud pie, beef and chicken fajitas, and chimichangas. Tech also serves unique options such as beef churrascaria, prepared on a Brazilian spitfire grill.

“A lot of what sets us apart is we’re very progressive. We’re constantly self-examining our food,” Bergsten said. “We come back and say, ‘Okay, how do we incorporate that and is it a feasible incorporation?’”

After receiving requests for Indian food from the student population, research and testing went into the process of bringing this absent option about. The Indian Student Association provided Dining Services with feedback, and as a result such food is now available on campus.

“We value every single guest who walks through the door. We value their experience,” Snediker said. “That comes across in everything we do.”

In the past, Dietrick has put on special events like customer appreciation meals and themed dinners. The National Association of College and University Food Services recognized an Alice in Wonderland-themed dinner in 2011 in which the building was decorated extravagantly and the meal was tailored to fit the theme. Decorations included wooden trees with Cheshire cats, costumed students, a tea party, and petit fours. NACUFS, which rewards universities making culinary innovations, awarded this dinner with a Gold Loyal E. Horton Award.

Bergsten said that Dietrick alone hosts at least 27 special events per year.

As for up-and-coming dining facilities, August 2012 will bring the inauguration of Turner Place, which will offer self-branded items such as a hibachi grill and sushi bar as well as national chains including Qdoba Mexican Grill, Jamba Juice, and Bruegger’s Bagels.

“It’s about, ‘How do we deliver the best product we can?’” Bergsten said.

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