On Dining Hall Tables, Farm Fresh Food

Linda A. Cicero

Sophomore Max Romano is as happy as a kid in clover.

“Wilbur and Manzanita are pumping out lots of nice, yellow, pear-shaped cherry tomatoes,” he says. “They are so delicious.”

Whenever Romano gets a hankering for vine-fresh squash, carrots, beets or chard, he can graze in the gardens at those two residence halls. If he needs some rosemary or lavender, it’s off to the herb gardens near Stern, FloMo, Ricker and Lagunita. As manager of the six campus gardens supported by Stanford Dining and as a member of Students for a Sustainable Stanford, Romano helps ensure that the herbs and veggies are regularly weeded and harvested.

Romano is not alone in his quest for tasty, healthful foods. “This is the Food Channel generation,” says Rafi Taherian, executive director of Stanford Dining, which runs the dining halls and a half-dozen campus eateries. “Students want to know where food comes from and what the nutritional content is.”

Taherian continually tastes new recipes and sits down with students in their dorms to be sure they’re getting what they want. “A university food service is not a restaurant,” he says. “We try to duplicate students’ home experiences, and we want to make sure they’re comfortable with what they’re eating here.”

For the past three years, Taherian and his executive chefs have made a concerted effort to have 20 percent of the ingredients in their recipes come from organic farms within a 250-mile radius of Stanford. They buy free-range chicken from Petaluma Poultry, milk from Clover Stornetta Farms, meat from Marin Sun Farms and produce from Alba Organic, a consortium of 27 farmers in the Salinas valley.

Because Stanford Dining pays less in transportation costs when it buys from local growers, Taherian says it’s possible to spend more for the food itself. “Whatever we get locally, we can change our recipes and menus [to include],” he says. “It’s just a matter of planning and commitment to make it happen.”

Take the new stadium’s flagship concession item: the Farm Dog. “The athletics department wanted a ‘destination product’ you couldn’t find anywhere else,” Taherian says. “Lots of people said, ‘Let’s do sushi.’ But we said, ‘What’s the No. 1 item people want? Hot dogs. So let’s look at organic, locally manufactured hot dogs.’” The winner: a hormone-, antibiotic- and nitrate-free dog from Bassian Farms of San Jose.

Stanford Dining, which is certified as a green business by Santa Clara County, is making a push to buy from so-called sustainable businesses. “We make sure their waste is recycled and they’re not using too many nonrenewable resources,” Taherian says. “They must take care of their workers and the farmers they buy from.”

Stanford Dining's Recipe for Organic Beet Salad

Yields 6 servings

Ingredients:

1 lb organic red beets
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 shallot
1 tbsp fresh thyme
½ tbsp Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 oz goat cheese
½ bunch arugula
1 tbsp chives
2 oz walnut halves
½ cup canola oil
2 tbsp powdered sugar
¼ tsp cayenne pepper

Method:

BEETS:

  1. Trim and wash beets
  2. Steam covered for 15-20 minutes or boil in lightly salted water for 15 minutes until fork tender
  3. Drain water, let beets cool
  4. Peel skin from beets by hand
  5. Cut beets in quarters

GLAZED WALNUTS:

  1. Blanch walnuts in boiling water for 5 minutes and drain
  2. Add powdered sugar to hot walnuts and toss well
  3. Place walnuts in hot canola oil (375 degrees) and, stirring frequently, fry until golden brown
  4. Drain well and place on baking sheet with liner
  5. Sprinkle with salt and cayenne
  6. Let cool

DRESSING:

  1. Stem and chop thyme
  2. Dice shallot to ¼” pieces
  3. Whisk thyme, shallots, mustard and vinegar together
  4. Add extra virgin olive oil slowly while whisking

SALAD:

  1. Toss beets with arugula, crumbled goat cheese and dressing
  2. Add salt and pepper to taste
  3. Garnish with chopped chives and glazed walnuts
  4. Enjoy!