The kitchen at Sterling accommodates the dietary needs and preferences, whether choice or necessity, for all of our community members. No matter if folks are professionally diagnosed with allergies, decidedly dairy-free, conscientiously vegan, vegetarian, trying out gluten-free living or any combination therein, the kitchen will make a fantastic and well rounded meal. Without question — and often with great pleasure — the kitchen creates an array of alternatives to every single one of the meals served here at Sterling. We do this joyfully because we love to cook for our community and we want everyone to be happy and well nourished.
Here’s how we meet dietary preferences and make so many wondrous meals.
- Each student, faculty, and staff member submits a dietary preference form to the kitchen each semester.
- As the Executive Chef, when writing menus I consider the alternative dietary needs of the community. I plot meals that may only require two or three different entrée versions to accommodate all dietary requirements. For instance, when making a tomato, basil, and fresh cheese tart, we are able to re-create that cheesy feel for the vegans with lemon-laced and mashed white beans. Gluten-free folks who can’t eat the floury tart shell will get a wilted spinach salad with tomatoes, herbed farmer’s cheese, olives and pickled red onions. Maybe we will make an alternative dish that is not even similar to the omnivore option. Instead of something along the lines of a tomato and cheese tart, we may serve something crazy such as smoked tofu with roasted tomatoes, mushrooms, and braised red cabbage. This dish will work for the gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan crowd. You never know what kind of delicacies we’ll break out, and we all enjoy that element of surprise.
- The talented and fantastic Liz, our dinner Sous Chef and alternative diet specialist, looks through the menu each week and conceptualizes alternative diets for the meals. Then she works her magic. She prepares highly tasty alternatives. For instance, say the menu calls for a creole/Southern inspired gumbo with shrimp and sausage. Liz will keep the theme with okra, fresh-picked from the Sterling gardens, fried with cornmeal, soft polenta, and black-eyed peas with tomato sauce. Totally vegan. Totally gluten free. Totally delicious. Yes!
- Liz researches recipes and finds inspiration everywhere she can. For example, she’ll go to Oh She Glows Blog or The Minimalist Baker to get ideas. Sometimes she’ll check out the cookbook for the vegetarian restaurant in Philadelphia called Vedge. She is talented and passionate about her work, and it shows in the quality and variety of options we make available. Often Liz creates a special meal for just one student who has particular allergies. We make an effort to break away from the usual players such as tofu and meat substitutes to provide interesting and nutritionally adequate meals.
- Homemade is a priority here. As much as we can make from scratch, we will make from scratch, in-house. This includes our special diet staples. Liz makes our seitan by hand. Paul, a veteran dinner chef, makes our gluten-free bread in house and it rivals our regular house-made bread.
- The kitchen generally scales up the number of servings for each meal by about ten. If we have seven vegans on campus, we will prepare around 17 portions for vegans. To make sure there is always enough of a special dish for everyone who truly needs it, the kitchen asks folks to only eat food that they’ve signed up for in their dietary preference forms. Once a student, faculty, or staff member has made the commitment to a dietary preference, the kitchen asks that they commit to that diet at each meal. That helps us make enough — but not too much — food for everyone. One challenge we face is that our creative alternative menu often inspires omnivores to try the vegan entree, for example. Though we wish we could make enough for everyone to try everything, we need ask our community to respect their dietary preferences and save the alternatives for the folks who have specifically requested them.
- We frequently keep alternative versions of the meal inside the kitchen during mealtimes. We do this to conserve space on the buffet line in the dining hall and to ensure that those who require the alternatives can access it. Also, the kitchen crew likes the chance to interact with folks on special diets to make sure they’re getting what they need.
- The kitchen also makes sure there are options on the buffet for all diets. At each meal there is always a “simple meal:” a basic whole grain, a simply prepared dark green, a salad and salad toppings, whole grain bread with various protein rich spreads, and fresh fruit. Most of the vegetable side dishes at lunch and dinner are vegan and gluten-free.
Every so often, we’ll serve an entire meal with no dairy or animal protein! It’s rare that anyone complains or even notices what’s missing because it looks and tastes so good! Did I mention dessert alternatives? Recent offerings have included: apple crisp, vegan coffee cake, grain-free chocolate peanut butter cookies, flourless and sugar-free chocolate torte, homemade fresh fruit sorbet. I bet you can find some room for these sweet treats!
The kitchen has a strong commitment to providing many options for delicious food to everyone in the community. It is our pleasure to make the experience during mealtimes satisfying, nourishing, fun, and even inspiring.
We constantly encourage folks to come into the kitchen or write us with feedback and ideas. We keep a suggestion box in the dining hall for all to provide feedback, and the kitchen team is always there to lend an ear. The kitchen provides the food, the community provides the feedback, the kitchen listens to the feedback, the food gets even better.
Have some ideas for delicious recipes? Want to learn more about how we take care of our Sterling students’ nutrition? Feel free to let me know!