If you’re a student at the University of Oregon who chooses to dine on campus, chances are you haven’t given much thought as to where your food comes from. Or maybe you assume that it was made at whatever dining venue you got it from, such as the Dux Bistro, Common Grounds or Fire ‘n’ Spice.
While it may be true that individual dining venues create and plate entrees, at some point or another that food made its way to that dining venue from the central kitchen.
The central kitchen produces 100 to 150 sushi rolls, 250 wraps and 400 sandwiches in any given day. These products are called “finished goods,” and are usually found in a refrigerator section of a dining venue already wrapped and ready to go for students.
The current location of the central kitchen opened in the spring of 2016 and was previously located in the basement of Carson Hall. The central kitchen, located on Columbia Street between 17th Avenue and 19th Avenue, is a warehouse-sized building of about 22,000 square feet.
The venue houses the equipment and a 100-person staff needed to produce the 2,000 to 6,000 meals per day that UO students consume, according to William Mullins, Assistant Director of Culinary Operations.
Chef Mullins came to the UO in July after previously working at the Oregon State University kitchen for five years. Before coming to university operations, Chef Mullins worked in the hotel industry after going to school at the Culinary Institute of America at Hyde Park.
Chef Mullins additionally has over 25 years of experience as a chef. His first job was cutting baked potatoes open at a steakhouse, and since then he’s been working his way up to where he is today.
“I love it here,” said Chef Mullins. “It’s so much fun getting to be creative every day.”
At the central kitchen, operations start at 5 a.m. every day with general production and depending on the amount of catered orders, a day can end anywhere from 7 p.m. to 12 a.m.
Around 60 student employees work in the central kitchen, many of them in the catering department, according to Chef Mullins. The catering department can be one of the busiest departments depending on the day and how many orders the staff receives.
Orders can be things like coffee service, breakfast pastries, fruit platters, hot foods, or sandwich and lunch meat platters. The catering department is also in charge of putting on the late night breakfasts that happen during dead week and finals week at the UO, as well as the IntroDUCKtion lunches in the spring.
According to Chef Mullins, the central kitchen provides almost all bakery items, including duck cookies, croissants, muffins and cookies among many of the other bakery items found in the dining venues.
The central kitchen makes all of the dining venues soups, salad dressings, marinades, sauces and salsas. Soups are made in batches that are no less than 30 gallons in size at a time.
“On any given day we probably produce anywhere from 200 to 400 gallons of beans, soups, or sauces,” said Chef Mullins.
As far as sustainability is concerned at the central kitchen, they try to source as much produce and meat as they can locally, according to Chef Mullins.
“It’s not just dorm food,” said Shawn Savage, the central kitchen sous chef.
“The work we do is about telling our story and making ourselves relevant,” said Chef Mullins. “If we want to produce better quality food, we’re the ones that drive that.”
Along with trying to find as much organic food as possible for students, the central kitchen also does their best to provide students with as many vegan, vegetarian and other options as they can.
“We have recipes that we specifically write for vegan and vegetarian foods,” said Chef Mullins.
Chef Mullins and the rest of his staff are always aiming to give the best food that they can to students. “The food we make helps the students feel at home,” said Chef Mullins. “It’s their first time away from mom and dad. It makes a more successful student.”