Friday, December 7, 2012

Ask the Chef: Meatless Monday

Our Monday tradition, Meatless Monday, is here again! Instead of talking about tips on how to go Meatless, we thought we would share with you what goes on behind the scenes during Meatless Monday.

To shed some insight on this, I interviewed Jeremiah Molina, Ithaca College's Executive Chef.  

Jeremiah Molina has had a passion for cooking since he was 15.  He continued his love for cooking by attending the Culinary Institute of America in 1999.  After honing his skills at the CIA, Molina moved on to occupy several well respected positions around the country.  He first worked on the west coast as a sous chef at Lisa Hemminway's Bistro, and then traveled all the way back to the east coast to work as Lead Chef at Hobart and William Smith College in Geneva, New York.  Hobart and William Smith is a Sodexo affiliated college, and this is where Molina became most familiar with Sodexo practices.  It was only in 2011 when Chef Molina was hired as Executive Chef at Ithaca College.  At Ithaca, Molina creates innovative and nutritional menus across campus. 
Chef Molina plays a huge part in the success of Meatless Monday.  He works side by side with the chefs of each kitchen in order to come up with nutritional and tasty Meatless Monday dishes.  Molina explained how each dining hall has its own menu, and his job is to oversee all of these dining halls to make sure that there are varied and healthful options.  Instead of choosing all of the dishes himself, Molina chooses to collaborate with the chefs from each dining hall in order to create menus.  He will consult with the chefs and critique their menus until he feels that they are ready to be used.  Molina says that this is a better process of creating menus, because it gives the individual chefs ownership of their meals.  

Part of creating menus also involves student feedback.  In order to satisfy everyones stomachs, Molina has to come up innovation menuing. For instance, Molina makes sure that every day in every dining hall, there is at least one meatless option.  At the same time, Molina has to make sure that every day in every dining hall there is also a meat option.  So, on Meatless Mondays, he still must provide at least one meat option in order to keep everyone happy.  However, Molina highlights meatless options on Mondays and hopes that more and more students will begin to see the health and environmental benefits of going meatless just one day a week, so that he can slowly take away more meat options on Mondays.  

In terms of staff and employee reactions to Meatless Monday, Molina says that the students are the ones who motivate the staff to jump on board with Meatless Monday.  Because of the students desire for more vegetarian and nutritious options, the chefs are able to see the value of  the food that they are cooking.  When more and more students eat, comment on, and request more healthy and vegetarian foods, the chefs will respond by incorporating more of those items into their menus.  

This means its up to US! The power is in our hand to create the dining hall menus.  As my coordinator, Stephanie Piech, always says- speak with your stomach.  If you want more local foods, then show that by eating at the Towers Fresh Food Market.  If you want more vegan or vegetarian foods, then go have dinner at those stations.  If the chefs see that certain menu items are being eaten more than others, then they will continue to make more of them! Their goal is to create delicious and nutritious foods that we want and like.

It's important to examine all of the factors that influence Meatless Monday.  From the chefs, to the menus, to the students, and then back to the chefs- there are so many things that determine what meatless meal you will find in your dining hall.  What's more important is to realize that students have a crucial role in this process! So take charge of whats on your plate! How? Eat more of the foods that you want to see more of, ask questions, make comments, and talk to your chefs and Ithaca Dining Services.
Happy Meatless Monday!


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