Friday, March 8, 2013

Commons should be "on Fire" every week

by Brian Bruns, Columnist
Pacific Lutheran University Dining and Culinary Services will be hosting the 2013 edition of its "Commons on Fire" cooking challenge this April. Half of the participants in the competition will be employees from the Commons.

It’s great that chefs and home cooks at PLU can participate in an event that gets them excited and re-ignites their passion for food.

I love to cook and have more than six years of experience in the foodservice industry. It is from that perspective that I challenge the Commons as a whole to adopt the spirit and standards of its cooking challenge on a full-time basis.

Working in foodservice requires that you respect the food being served and care for the customer eating it. The Commons must stop trying to serve food that has clearly seen its best hour.

On one of my usual midday strolls through the Commons for lunch, I decided to check the pizza counter. The slices looked old and stale, long past the point anyone with standards or a reasonable amount of time would want to pay to consume.

I remained hopeful as the chef pulled out a fresh pepperoni pie. That hope twisted into despair as the chef cut it and quickly slid the pizza under the counter and out of sight, leaving me with the old selection.

Managers and employees have to be more aware of when food has gone south, looks unappetizing or just plain tastes bad. Leaving it up there is insulting to paying customers who know you have fresh stock close at hand.

The "Commons on Fire" is also clearly modeled after modern competitive cooking shows. Anyone who has seen those shows knows that serving frozen or pre-cooked food is as close to food sin as it gets. Yet the Commons not only uses frozen ravioli but also pre-cooks its hamburgers.

Now, I have eaten many a hamburger from the Commons and the portion is quite generous, but every time I’m left wondering what could have been. If only they had the extra five minutes to cook it fresh — that would be a wondrous thing.

My criticism may seem rough, but my advice is very simple: if you wouldn’t eat it, feed it to your kids or allow it to be judged in the "Commons on Fire" competition, then please don’t try serving it to me.

Go ahead and change out the pan. Don’t be afraid to toss food that’s past its prime and prioritize quality over managing waste.

Dining and Culinary Services at PLU can only do so much though. Ultimately it will be up to students to collectively decide what standards they will tolerate.

Brian Bruns is a father, a husband and a U.S. Army veteran. Sarcasm, wit and a good cup of coffee are all keys to his success. He can usually be spotted Thursday night working for Mast TV’s News @Nine or Friday nights hosting Lutes, Listen Up! on LASR.