Every morning, if you have a sewanee.edu email address, you are going to get a message from Chef Rick, executive chef and interim director of Sewanee Dining. Part food history, part nutrition advice, part promotion of the menu, the email messages are a kind of performance, encouraging the community to be more mindful about food. Now, thanks to a generous gift from David and Edie Johnson, these messages are combined with a reorganization of the McClurg Hall and a focus on visible food preparation that helps students make good food choices.
While the major enhancement is a new salad bar, changes have also been made to each of the food stations (new menu choices, afternoon smoothies, gluten-free options, a grill, vegan choices, and a home line featuring meat and three superbly prepared vegetables).
But the star is that salad bar. Instead of a crushed-ice filled island, with a choke point around the lettuce bowl, the new bar undulates along the east side of McClurg, behind a wall of windows. Diners can drop in all along the bar, instead of starting at one end, and a visit is quick and efficient. Dining workers are also creating custom salads, which can just be picked up. Their work is part of the emphasis on performance, showing off the creative skill of the dining staff, but it is also designed to introduce students to different kinds of food. “With portions managed by culinary staff, meat proteins and other ingredients can be introduced to students,” notes the project description. “Its linear design will broaden the variety offered and more effectively present in open market fashion this greater variety of ingredients and composed salads to students.”
That open market fashion was one feature that appealed to the Johnsons. “It seems to have made a good difference,” says Mr. Johnson. “The students we have heard from have a more favorable impression of McClurg. Moving some of the food preparation from behind the wall of the kitchen makes it more like a modern restaurant than a cafeteria. The McClurg staff has done a really good planning job, and we are happy to do what we did.”
The Johnsons have been coming to Sewanee since their son William was a junior in high school. “William just fell in love with the place. For our part, we could see everything John McCardell was trying to do to improve every aspect of the University, and we wanted to help. We also wanted to do something that would have immediate impact, where students would benefit right away. John McCardell told us about this project and mentioned that the University had been setting aside some money to take care of it, and we thought this project would meet those criteria.”
Regardless of what students say about the dining hall, Chef Rick and his staff have noticed an important effect: students are consuming, and the dining hall is purchasing, significantly more salad items.
The couple was motivated to give to this project out of overall support for the University. “We are also big believers in the annual fund,” says Mr. Johnson. “The whole concept behind our gift is discovering what we can do to make a positive difference with the resources we have. Anyone can do that, and everyone can make a positive difference.”
The Johnsons hope everyone who loves Sewanee will be open to discovering how they can make a difference, whether through the annual fund or a restricted gift with a more focused purpose. For now, their gift has made a big difference in enhancing the Sewanee experience.