Forum editor Amil Malik talks with the campus executive chef

Amil Malik

Editor’s Note: Forum Editor Amil Malik sat down with Division of Housing and Food Service Executive Chef Robert Mayberry in order to discuss healthy eating on campus. 

Amil Malik: Could you give me some context about the dining establishments on campus? Do they all come under the DHFS umbrella? 

Robert Mayberry: Now actually at least five or six other entities on campus operate food service. I work with the DHFS which means we’re under both UT and the state. Many of the other food service outlets on campus are contracted. The contractors have the advantage of having multiple units. They’re good at managing price and managing profits. Food service is a tricky thing to do because you’re working with food, which is perishable, and you’re working with people, who can sometimes be difficult to manage — if we’re being honest. So the contractors take care of all that. They allow a department that may not want to deal the food and the people to cut that out by contracting it. 

But, in terms of DHFS, that encompasses all the campus living facilities and the food services attached to them. We have Jester City Limits, J2, Cyprus Bend, Kinsolving and Littlefield Patio Cafe. Then we have two kinds of services, the all-you-can-eat and the retail operations. 

Malik: Who decides where DHFS operates and where contractors operate?

Mayberry: I can’t really speak to all the other parts of campus because I’m not exactly sure who runs what. But each of the colleges makes their own decisions as far as the food services attached to them. Athletics has its own contractor, and the student union has a different contractor. I’ve been here for 11 years and that’s how it’s been. But mainly we focus on taking care of the students. Every time we make a decision, we ask what’s the benefit for the students.

Malick: Last time we spoke, you mentioned some of the new DHFS sustainability measures. What sustainability measures does the DHFS  have in place right now?

Mayberry: Right now we have some questions we ask ourselves before we purchase. Some of the criteria we follow, budgetary requirements permitting of course: Is it organic? Is it free trade? Is it socially responsible? For concrete items we question: Is it a recycled product? How does it affect our carbon footprint? 

Our purchasing director has done a really good job of following those criteria. And in the past, 23 percent of our compliance products — food and non-food  — are either sustainable, organic, or recycled. So it’s a pretty good number, and we keep shooting for higher.

Malik: How do you decide the menu in the DHFS facilities?

Mayberry: I’d be happy to talk about that. We have 13 chefs besides myself. I’m the campus executive chef, so my role is really support for all the other chefs and the unit managers. We have six different locations total. Each location has a manager and one to three chefs depending on the size. Menus can be similar in different locations. In a nutshell, the managers and the chefs collaborate to come up with the menus. We have a menu cycle rotate every three weeks in each location, which is a way to increase variety, with different items for breakfast, lunch and dinner. So you may have a couple thousand recipes for Jester City Limits that we rotate through. A lot of what we do is we have menus in place, and we’re always reassessing those menus for acceptability. If something’s not moving or if we have a request for a different kind of food, we take that into consideration. The factors we take into consideration are feedback from customers, what’s new and current, what’s locally sourced and sustainable. We think about seasonality — what’s in season. We are always making plans to improve for the following semester.

Malik: How do you manage the nutritional content of the food?

Mayberry: I think people appreciate more and more that delicious food can also be nutritious. Of course there is the exception of the high fat and the high sugar item. But more and more people are very conscious of where their food is coming from and what they’re putting in their body. Our registered dietitian, Lindsay Wilson, has done a great job. We work together when we are planning a menu. We’re in the same room at the same time. It’s an open discussion. There’s a lot of give-and-take and input on each side. We value the input of the registered dietitian, and I think she values the input of the chefs. If she finds something needs attention, we look at it. And when we design menus, we keep a balance in mind. We’re looking for healthy. We minimize the fat and minimize the processed content to keep food as healthy as we can while still having it taste good.  But again it’s a great effort. There’s a lot of input on all sides.

Then, once we land on a menu, that’s just the first step. After we decide a specific menu item, we look at the recipe. Then Leslie goes through the fat content. If there’s too much butter for instance, and we can cut back without sacrificing taste, we do that. Then we try to balance so that we have a vegetarian option, seafood, beef and pork. What else. Oh, yes, Lindsay’s done a great job of putting nutritional content online. We have nutritional content on all the food we serve along with allergen information. 

Malik: Thanks again for talking with me today. One final question: As the executive chef, what advice would you have for students looking to eat healthy within the campus establishments?

Mayberry: I’d say you should eat in the DHFS facilities. Honestly, we have a lot of choices. We reach out to students for feedback on how we’ve done. We have a huge amount of variety. I would recommend a student look online. All our menus are posted online. You’ve got great choices and have the nutritional information as well. We have vegetarian. We have whole grain. And we try to minimize the processed food. Check it out online, research and see what we have to offer.

Mayberry is the executive chef at the UT Division of Housing and Food Services.