Students will be learning a slew of new vocabulary words outside the classroom this year with the opening of UCLA's new healthy dining hall. Quinoa, kohlrabi, mizuna and chayote, anybody?
Those are among the novel ingredients starring at Bruin Plate, the campus's newest and largest dining hall. B-Plate is among the first health-themed dining halls in the country and the first west of the Mississippi.
In support of UCLA's Healthy Campus Initiative, UCLA Dining Services focused more than ever on locally sourced produce and meats, sustainable seafood, unprocessed and preservative-free items, organic foods, nutrient-packed superfoods, and expanded vegetarian and vegan options, said Daryl Ansel, director of Dining Services.
"By offering exclusively fresh, flavorful, wholesome foods, Bruin Plate makes the healthy choice the easy choice," Ansel said. "The food at B-Plate is amazing, and sometimes even I'm surprised how much I love it. I never imagined healthy food could be this delicious and satisfying."
Because of its anticipated popularity, only students will have access to B-Plate when it opens early in the fall quarter inside the new Sproul Presidio. Service to staff, faculty and the public will be phased in later.
Dishes will include an array of the familiar and the exotic, from kale, farro, amaranth and açai berries to lentils, Brussels sprouts, collard greens and more that perhaps only serious foodies will recognize. Entrees like the root-vegetable tagine, the red-quinoa-and-sweet-potato burger with pineapple salsa, and the chicken with dates, polenta and spinach are designed to let the high-quality ingredients really shine.
There will be no french fries, traditional desserts, commercial sodas, cured meats or heavily processed foods. Instead, students will find options like a farm-to-table roasted vegetable bar heaped with locally grown produce — which proved popular during menu-testing last year. UCLA sustainability manager Aliana Lungo-Shapiro built relationships with local California farmers and ranchers that have helped to make at least 20 percent of the food at Bruin Plate sustainable.
"The students have really begun asking for this type of food," said Guadalupe Morales, general manager of Bruin Plate. "We saw a big increase in the amount of fruits and vegetables the students are eating, and they're really interested to learn about new ingredients."
"They're real foodies," agreed Dolores Hernandez, a registered dietitian and nutrition education coordinator at UCLA, who developed a comprehensive guide to teach students about new foods. "Student tastes are much more mature than they were even a few years ago. They're asking about where their foods come from, whether it's local or sustainable, and what the health benefits are."
UCLA Dining staff has the added advantage of knowing that B-Plate will succeed, because they spent six months developing new recipes at UCLA's Hedrick Test Kitchen last school year. They served up to a thousand students each night, and campus chefs fine-tuned recipes until students charged the roasted-vegetable station the way they descend upon cheeseburgers and pepperoni pizza at other dining halls. The wholesome foods were so popular that students would regularly go through 200 to 250 pounds of kale or purple cauliflower during a single meal. The test kitchen received extensive feedback, but criticism about the lack of standard college fare never materialized.
"We stopped serving things like french fries and traditional desserts, and the students had no complaints," said Kevin Aiello, executive chef at the test kitchen and Bruin Plate. "We serve fresh greens, caramelized onions, roasted vegetables, lean meats — it's wholesome, and it's beautiful because we make sure we include a lot of color in everything. People really eat with their eyes."
Feedback at the test kitchen was overwhelmingly positive, said Alex Macias, the assistant food and beverage director for UCLA Dining who oversees B-Plate.
"The students told us how well and healthy they felt," he said. "What's exciting to me is that the food is so satisfying, like the farro burger or the lentil burger. Now, I'm a carnivore, but those burgers really hit the spot."
Instead of soda, which students had naturally begun drinking less of at the test kitchen, Bruin Plate will feature house-made infused waters with unique, light flavors such as pineapple-mango-hibiscus, vanilla-peach and even butternut squash. In place of traditional desserts, there will be seasonal fruit with sweet balsamic sauces, quick breads such as zucchini bread and pecan–sweet-potato bread, fresh nut butters, and a bar offering both frozen and Greek yogurts with toppings like fresh and dried fruit, nuts, and seeds.
Lunch and dinner will include an array of pizza-like flatbreads, the farm-to-table hot vegetable bar with locally grown produce, a salad-tossing station and healthy bowls that combine items like hearty grains, roasted vegetables, beans and lean meats. Entrees will be 400 calories or less, and sides 200 calories or less. Students will also see their favorite entrees from the test kitchen, where recipes were mercilessly pitted against one another in head-to-head popularity contests to decide what to keep. New recipes will also appear, especially during the first meal of each day.
"The morning will be our most unique meal period," Ansel said. "It will really change the way students think about breakfast."
Breakfast will feature fresh-baked whole-grain bread from UCLA's central bakery and house-made compotes and marmalades with unique sweet-and-savory flavor combos, like pear-and-garlic or hibiscus-and-beet. Entrees will include options like a poached cage-free egg surrounded by spicy black beans and sweet roasted plantains and garnished with a roasted Brussels-sprout slaw; a savory polenta French toast encrusted with cornflakes and baked for crunch, served with fresh berries; and a breakfast hash made of farro, lean ground chicken, spinach and avocado.
These unusual entrees are symbols of the transformative new approach that Dining Services took across the board when it created B-Plate, Aiello said.