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Coming soon to a dining hall near you: a mélange of new, authentically prepared Asian dishes.
As part of an effort to promote healthy and diverse cooking on campus, chefs from the renowned Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, N.Y., visited BU in August and instructed chefs from BU Dining Services as part of a five-day intensive Asian Cuisine Academy. The goal? To come up with a series of authentic Asian dishes to roll out over the coming semester.
The weeklong academy culminated with the presentation and tasting of 16 new dishes from China, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam—all incorporating the freshness, lightness, and flavors characteristic of their respective cuisines. Fewer than half of the roughly two dozen Asian international students invited to attend the tasting said they regularly dine on campus, but they buzzed excitedly as Dining Services social media coordinator Robert Flynn (SHA’96) listed the dishes being tested that day: Thai-style beef, claypot chicken, Thai chicken soup with coconut milk and galangai, Vietnamese grilled shrimp paste on sugar cane, pan-fried Chinese dumplings, sweet and tangy tangerine spareribs, double-cooked pork, Chinese greens, fresh spring rolls, Malaysian chicken satay with peanut sauce and red onion relish, pork vindaloo, roti chanay, sushi, grilled glazed salmon, stir-fried glass noodles, and egg fried rice.
Overall, the students were enthusiastic, with most saying the quality and authenticity of the food exceeded their expectations. Dian Zhang (COM’15), a graduate student from Cheng Du, China, studying business journalism, pronounced the food as good as, and in some cases better than, the food she eats at home. “I think the sparerib is better than my mom’s,” she said. “If the dining hall was full of Asian foods like this, I’d eat there much more frequently.” Favorite dishes included the sushi, the spareribs, the dumplings, and the chicken satay.
Each student was given a short survey to fill out at the end of the tasting. Flynn says that once the feedback is taken into account and any necessary modifications are made to the dishes, they will be served at every on-campus dining hall this fall. At the end of the semester, they will be evaluated for popularity, along with the rest of the menu items, and will either remain on the menu or be replaced, based on student input. “We let the students take the lead,” Flynn says.
One of the biggest impetuses for the introduction of the additional authentic Asian dishes is the growing presence on campus of international students from Asia. Roughly 20 percent of the BU student body comes from abroad, and the majority of them are from Asian countries. The new cuisine is meant to make those students feel more welcome and, just as important, to persuade them to live and dine on campus after their freshman year.
For Flynn, the addition of more authentic Asian fare does more than increase the diversity of BU’s menu—it fulfills the Dining Services goal of furthering the cultural appreciation of all BU students. “We don’t want students’ education to end in the classroom,” he says. “A student’s going to have double-cooked pork or stir-fried glass noodles for the first time here, and they’re going to enjoy it. They’re getting educated on something that they’ve never had before, and that’s what we want to do.”
“Ultimately, we don’t do it just for our international students,” says Christopher Bee, Dining Services executive chef. “We do it for everyone. All we’re trying to do is promote healthy eating, trying to promote local produce, local fish, sustainability, fresh ingredients. We’re really trying to be the leaders in the industry.”
Dining Services reached out to the CIA for guidance in the art of preparing authentic food from Thailand, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, and Japan. Each day of the five-day program began at 8 a.m. with a lecture about the ingredients, recipes, and cooking methods involved in preparing the dish assigned for that day. The classes were followed by demonstrations by CIA chefs, and then BU chefs prepared the various appetizers and entrees, which were taste-tested and critiqued by their BU and CIA peers.
Bee says University kitchens already possess all of the equipment and most of the ingredients necessary to prepare the 16 dishes. The challenge facing Dining Services chefs was how to develop a more refined appreciation for the flavor profiles of cuisines from different Asian countries. “It’s a matter of a basic understanding of the regions—how to utilize chili peppers and herbs, where shrimp paste goes and where it doesn’t, where a wheat noodle goes and where it does not go, and whether rice is part of a daily diet or not,” Bee says. “That’s important. It helps train our cooks and gives them the fundamentals needed to grow.”
Shirley Cheng, a CIA professor of culinary arts, who specializes in Asian cuisine, created the curriculum and led the five-day course at BU. She says that one of the most important aspects of the training process was having the BU chefs learn to make the new dishes in their own kitchens. “This is an advantage,” she says. “We’re teaching right on the spot, which means that if I can do it right here, then they can do it, too.”
Bee and Cheng say that the kind of intensive culinary training that BU chefs underwent this summer mirrors a widespread effort to improve the food served in college dining halls across the country. Cheng notes that experts from the CIA’s consulting and continuing education programs have traveled across the country to train college chefs, not just in Asian cuisine, but in the preparation of healthier, tastier, and more diverse dishes from all over the world.
Dining Services director Barbara Laverdiere says that the success of this summer’s collaboration between BU and the CIA will likely lead to similar professional training programs and the introduction of more authentic international cuisines into each dining hall’s repertoire. “I think we’re definitely going to do another training program, probably either Indian or Middle Eastern, because those are two cuisines that students talk about a lot,” she says. “This is our step one. Now we’ll just keep going.”