It’s not every food service operation that needs to feed a vibrant, young population each one of its meals, every day during an exciting, sometimes stressful, and transformative 8-month period. But that is definitely the case for our team in UBC Food Services.
We have retail outlets like Mercante and The Loop, restaurants like Sage and The Point Grill, franchises like Pacific Poké and Tim Hortons, and our very own catering company, Scholar’s. These are immensely important aspects of UBC Food Services that help us feed the campus community. But what makes the operation truly unique is our Residence Dining operation.
Residence Dining supports the food and nutrition needs of thousands of students in first year residence, students who participate in the required residence meal plan and who eat nearly every meal with us. Our three residence dining rooms are Totem Dining Room at Totem Park, Gather at Place Vanier, and Open Kitchen at Orchard Commons.
And when we say residence dining, we mean it. Chicken strips and fries might still be on the menu, but they’re far from centre stage.
“We’re part of an extraordinary shift in thinking at universities and colleges throughout Canada and the continent to elevate the residence food experience – from a quality perspective, but also health and wellbeing, sustainability, and diversity.” – David Speight, Culinary Director & Executive Chef
A New Pear-spective
Culinary Director and Executive Chef David Speight shared some of his insights about the big transformations currently underway in residence dining at UBC.
“The fact that in residence dining we’re serving people nearly their entire diet means that we need to account for way more than just flavour,” says Chef David. “It’s imperative that we consider variety, health, quality, affordability, and sustainability, not to mention the diversity of our clientele. Our students come from all over the world and have incredibly diverse relationships to food.”
That’s a pretty tall order if you ask me! So how do we keep all that in mind? David mentions the Food Services’ Vision & Values as a fundamental tool to guide decisions across the unit. This document guides every decision made across the portfolio, and it takes into account everything from food safety, nutritional factors, our supplier code of conduct, waste management, and student and staff health & wellbeing.
Additionally, David adds how important it is for him and his team to listen to the students. “Living in first year residence, they have no option but to take part in the meal plan and eat the food that we’re making. It’s very important to me that we listen to their perspective and their experiences, and that we maintain an open dialogue.”
One way that Chef David is reaching out to students is through a new program this year called Lunch Chats, organized in cooperation with Residence Life. Through this program David and other key members of the team like Melissa Baker, our in-house Registered Dietitian, were joined for lunch by small groups of first year students and Residence Life student staff interested in sharing their experiences eating in residence at UBC.
Speaking of our Registered Dietitian, it’s worth mentioning more about how she supports students and the community at UBC. In her role as Manager, Nutrition and Wellbeing, Melissa Baker (MHSc, RD) provides a wide range of services and support that helps keep our students, and our menus, healthy.
She is a fundamental support for students with dietary restrictions who will be eating in our residence dining rooms. Some of these students move into Ritsumeikan-UBC House if their dietary needs mean they need to do the cooking. Others she helps understand what food will be like in their residence dining room and discusses what kind of food accommodations (i.e., customizations) they might need.
“If we need to make someone a special meal – just for them, every day – we do. We’re here to support students with a wide range of dietary needs, students who may not be able to eat certain foods for dietary, allergic, or religious and cultural reasons.” – Melissa Baker, Manager, Nutrition and Wellbeing
Melissa also does outreach with upper-year students, graduate students, and families in Acadia Park family housing. She works with Residence Life Managers to help deliver nutrition- and wellbeing-related programs like the UBC Family Health & Resource Fair at Acadia Park or the Healthy Eating on a Budget session at Marine Drive. She also coordinates the Learn to Grocery Shop program – in coordination with Emma McCrudden, Athletics & Recreation’s Dietitian. In this ongoing program, Nutrition and Dietetics students take upper year students to Save-On-Foods in the Wesbrook Village and help them learn how to navigate the grocery store – to make healthy choices and save money.
Learn more about Melissa and the ways that she supports the campus community, including SHHS staff.
As you can see, there’s an incredible level of energy, effort, and attention that goes into feeding our students in first year residence. Like David said, it’s critical to consider not just flavour, not just quantity or affordability, but a wide variety of criteria – everything from health and sustainability to variety and customer diversity.
Outside of residence dining specifically, here’s a few of David’s highlights from 2017 and his team’s big projects for 2018.
David’s Highlights, 2017
Fave menu item
The Poke bowls at Gather. Yum!
Local food purchasing
In 2017, Food Services’ local food purchases increased significantly. That makes sense considering Chef David’s mantra for 2017 was “if the UBC Farm sells it, buy it.” His team must have listened.
We spent $35,000 at the UBC Farm, an increase of $11,000 over 2016. David also intended to spend $10,000 through Vancouver Farmers Markets (VFM) Direct, an aggregation and distribution service that connects farmers with restaurants and food service, retail, and institutional operations. Our chefs far exceeded the target, spending $30,000 on produce through VFM Direct. Awesome! No doubt our spending has a big impact on these local food suppliers.
Food Recovery Program
Last year we reported on the early stages of our Food Recovery program, which began through a partnership on a Land and Food Systems class SEEDS Project. David is pleased to report that shortly after that blog post was published, he solidified a partnership with Food Stash Foundation, an organization that is able to accept and distribute our bulk unconsumed food, which our early-stage partners were not able to accept. Additionally, food recovery and donation is becoming an ingrained aspect of our operations and culture. We are successfully able to divert a great deal of unconsumed food to recipients at UBC and across Vancouver.
Big Plans for 2018
The culinary team has big plans for 2018, including some cool SEEDS projects and a new apprenticeship program!
Impact study with Vancouver School of Economics
Following from the success of last year’s local food purchasing, the team is working on a unique SEEDS project with the Vancouver School of Economics. This project will assess the potential impact of spending over $500,000 (of our annual $10 million spending on fresh food) with VFM Direct. That kind of buying power could provide local farmers and food producers with substantial cash flow to invest in their operations and strengthen our local food systems. We look forward to hearing more about this, right?!
In addition to this SEEDS project, UBC Food Services is working on another 5, on topics ranging from hydration stations to building food skills in residence.
The culinary team is excited to have just launched an apprenticeship program in UBC Food Services. Through the 3 year program, apprentices can learn every aspect of the food service business and earn their Red Seal right here at UBC. Our first cohort of apprentices (many internal candidates, along with some external candidates) will be receiving their offers early this month!
“What we’ve done so far is just the tip of the iceberg. I think we’re entirely capable of becoming the #1 university food service operation in Canada – or North America.”