Faces behind the feast: UT's Certified Executive Chefs change the game of campus eating
Texas and beef go hand-in-hand, especially when it comes to barbecue. Imagine a lean cut of brisket slow roasted on a bed of chopped carrots, celery and onions. A spice rub with a hint of sugar, but only enough to bring out the flavors of black pepper, red pepper, garlic and oregano is used to spice the meat to perfection.
You end up with a caramelized outside layer holding in the flavors of a tender and savory brisket. The sauce is made out of simmered pan juices to replace traditional barbecue sauce which, can overwhelm the flavor of the meat. But this brisket didn’t come from a two hour wait in line with a lawn chair, it came from right here on campus in J2 Dining hall.
The brisket recipe was developed by one of the University Housing and Dining (UHD) Certified Executive chefs. Only 3,200 chefs in the United States hold this illustrious title and four of the 16 campus chefs are certified. This prestigious distinction is earned from the American Culinary Federation, and if you thought your last final was hard, it’s nothing compared to the grueling written and practical exam. The exam is like competing on the TV show Chopped.
Chefs are given a grocery basket filled with different foods and 3 hours to prepare a three-course meal using everything in the basket. With this kind of experience in a UHD chef’s coat, you know the food being served is high quality.
“We have in-depth knowledge of food that’s safe to eat, delicious and nutritious,” Certified Executive Chef Dane Cessac said.
Cessac came to UHD after working at Whole Foods Market for over 12 years. He has been in the dining business for more than 20 years and enjoys serving up restaurant quality food to university students.
In addition to keeping Austin weird, Certified Executive Chef Rudy Bernard likes to keep Austin local. With two campus gardens, one located in the patio area of Kinsolving Dining and one outside Jester, UHD chefs are able to gather fresh herbs and vegetables to add to the menu.
Bernard, a native of Germany, started his career as a chef’s apprentice in the late 70s and has been developing new recipes since. His latest creations from the campus garden harvest are braised fennel with seafood and sautéed kale and collards.
“You will also find fresh radishes and baby lettuce on the salad bar when they are in season,” Bernard said.
These first-rate chefs are also focused on bringing more vegetarian and vegan options to the menu. Over the summer, chefs attended a Food Forward training on plant-based cooking. This resulted in a rotation of vegan desserts offered at both J2 and Kinsolving Dining. Bite into vegan-friendly options like peach almond crisp or cherry cobbler served on Mondays at these two all-you-care-to-eat locations.
“It’s all about staying up-to-date and responding to student needs,” Executive Chef Robert Mayberry said.
For him, student feedback is one of the most important elements of any decision the chefs make when they plan or update menus in UHD dining locations. On a monthly basis, UHD chefs attend the University Residence Housing Association Food Committee meetings and Vegetarian Focus Group meetings where they conduct cooking demonstrations and gather input from students on their dining experience and their menu suggestions.
“The chefs take into account your suggestions and how to improve on the food, which is really important when you’re eating it every day,” said Krystal Martinez, second-year nutrition major who attends the Vegetarian Focus Group meetings.
In the end, these top-tier chefs are using their experience to bring an affordable, nutritious and appetizing meal to your plate every time you eat with UHD.
“Just good, fresh and healthy food,” Certified Executive Chef Rudy Bernard said.
Check out all of the locations and daily menus from University Housing and Dining for your next delicious meal. Faculty, staff and students living off campus can save money while enjoying chef-prepared foods by checking out the Commuter Meal Plan.