It’s fair to say that probably every Wesleyan student in recent history has eaten a meal at the Usdan Marketplace, gotten a coffee from Pi or Usdan Café, ordered a salad at Summerfields, or picked up some groceries at Weshop. All of these eateries are run by the Bon Appetit Management Company, an organization with onsite restaurants at over 400 locations, including colleges and universites, corporations, and specialty venues.

Lately, there has been quite some hype over Wesleyan’s Bon Appetit, including the regular farmers’ markets, commitment to local and sustainable agriculture, and, most recently, award winning vegan-cuisine. We’ve all enjoyed the great products provided by our dining service, but have you ever wondered, midway through your apple crisp, what’s going on in the kitchens below? Where and what and who is responsible for the delicious food on your plate? Last week, we were lucky enough to chat with executive chef, Brian Dagnall, who gave us an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour of the inner workings of Bon Appetit.

Since 2007, Bon Appetit has been demonstrating a commitment to providing high quality food for the Wesleyan community. Although doors don’t open to the public until 8:00 AM, the machine that is our dining service is running nearly twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

The first crews of employees arrive at 5:30 every morning to begin preparing for breakfast. This includes cage-free eggs, breakfast pastries, hot and cold cereal, fruit, as well as an assortment of other options. Everything is made from scratch, except for the croissants and scones, which come pre-packaged and frozen. As the chefs prepare the morning meal, trucks begin to crowd around the loading dock, which Dagnall describes as a “luxury,” to unload about $20,000 worth of food each day. As soon as breakfast is done being prepared, lunch begins, and this routine continues until the last dishes of late night are cleaned and put away.

Breakfast scones before being cooked

As Dagnall led us through the countless number of rooms comprising the main Usdan kitchen, we were surprised at the mere size of this space dedicated solely to preparing food. Located in the basement of Usdan, the kitchen is used to cook the food served at Usdan marketplace, Usdan Café (Grab-N-Go), Pi Café, and Weshop. Needless to say, every inch of space is utilized. For instance, there is a room containing hundreds of sodas and other beverages, a room just for paper goods, and a room dedicated to catering equipment. Beyond that, there is a room for produce, bakery items, vegan items, and condiments, as well as a separate kosher kitchen, storage room, and freezer.

Take a walk upstairs and you’ll find yet another kitchen located within the Marketplace. Those mysterious doors you pass by every time you head to the cafeteria lead to even more rooms storing burgers, ready-to-serve baked goods, and drink machines, as well as an expansive dish room. In addition, if you’ve ever been lucky enough to eat in Daniel Family Commons (the exclusive third floor of Usdan), you might have caught a glimpse at the separate kitchen located there too.

Boxes of beverages with tubing leading to the soda fountain machine.

The upstairs kitchen.

The dish room.

With all this space, the Bon Appetit staff has the potential to prepare incredible amounts of food. For instance, 30-40 pounds of cookie dough and 35 pans of dessert bars are made and subsequently devoured by the hungry student body each week. It also doesn’t take long to go through 50,000 pounds of tomatoes, a key ingredient in many of the dishes at the Marketplace. However, the most important ingredient in any of the food prepared by Bon Appetit is freshness. The inventory turn on dry goods is only seven and a half days, with most foods coming in daily.

“Nothing in here sits in this building for more than seven days,” Dagnall explained.

Take the burgers, for instance, which are free-range, organic, and of the highest quality.

“We pay top dollar for those burgers. They’re out of upstate New York, and come in seven days a week.”

It is clear that Bon Appetit, unlike many other dining services, focuses on quality as much as they do quantity. For example, at most other schools you won’t find such a strong commitment to supporting local vendors.

“We’re number two on most locally purchased produce for Bon Appetit on the entire east coast”, Dagnall explained. “Wesleyan is second only to American University in Washington D.C.”

With good reason, Dagnall prides himself in working for a company that is so committed to excellent food. Having worked at restaurants all over the country before settling down in Middletown, he claims that the dining at Wesleyan parallels that of any restaurant; the only difference is in size. To uphold this standard, Dagnall tries to bring in quality food and chefs as much as money can allow. Our dining service boasts: free-range meat, dairy from Ronnybrook Farm, several homemade dressings, bread products from a New York distributor called D & R Baking, gluten-free pastries from a Connecticut company called Shanya B’s and the Pickle, and a top-notch baker who prepares essentially all of the baked goods consumed on our campus from scratch. In fact, this man, Dennis Lazicki, even ran his own bakery before beginning to work at Wesleyan.

Dennis Lazicki

“He’s probably one of the most talented bakers I’ve met,” Dagnall remarked. “He could be a pastry chef in Boston or New York.”

Even though Lazicki has been on the job for five years, he’s always coming up with new recipes to please the student body.

“As long as we get positive feedback, that’s what we make,” he said. One of his new favorite recipes is for the cupcakes, which made their debut at Usdan Café and Pi at the beginning of the year.

A red velvet Usdan cupcake

It’s certainly not an easy job to serve thousands of students and faculty each day, but the staff of Bon Appetit do an exceptional job. They work tirelessly— preparing food, transporting it, researching it, testing it, and so on. So next time you’re in Usdan piling on the barbeque seitan, waiting in line for sweet potato fries, or breaking off a bite of a Congo bar, take a second to think about how much time and effort went into what we consume at this school.

We guarantee it will taste that much better.

 

-Ari & Alex

Photography by Rina Kremer ’15