Fried rice, fried chicken, fried…okra? “Ya-mahn!” says Chef Joshua Miller, catering chef for AVI Fresh Dining Services and the main culinary voice for the Caribbean-themed “Dining with the Directors” event Wednesday, April 1.
Every semester, directors and staff of AVI Fresh Dining Services at Slippery Rock invite students and faculty to discuss the university dining system over dinner. In my experience attending these dinners, invitations are typically sent out to program directors of the university who invite their students, namely the Student Government Association, Orientation Ambassadors, Residence Life, Green and White Society, FLSP Peer Mentors and so on. The themed dinners showcase the talents of AVI chefs and are a fun way to get feedback from students and test out new recipes for the dining facilities.
The night’s theme? Tastes of the Caribbean! Allow me to set the scene:
Walking into the ballroom, the tables are decorated with multicolored, flower-shaped cloth napkins and a lei flower necklace rests on each chair. To the right are frozen drink machines churning away beside an assortment of tiny drink umbrellas. The perimeter of the room is lined with buffet tables and hot serving dishes, golden speckled plates and welcoming chefs in white hats and chef coats. Above everyone’s chatter plays tropical mood music.
For Chef Josh, the theme had to be fun, not only in terms of the food but the decorations, music and overall atmosphere, he said.
Joe Balaban, Resident Director of AVI Fresh Dining Services, introduced the chefs and staff members presiding over Slippery Rock’s dining facilities and welcomed feedback on all aspects of campus dining by providing comment cards at each table.
Then, it was on to the question on everyone’s mind: What’s for dinner?
The answers came from Chef Josh, who explained each station’s purpose (protein, salad, grains, dessert) and the Caribbean-inspired flavors in each of them. Among the stations were rum-marinated shrimp, jerk chicken meatballs, rice and “peas” – the Jamaican name for a rice and red beans dish, fried okra, pineapple chow, coconut polenta, pina colada frozen drinks, pina colada cupcakes, rum cakes and much more.
Chef Josh encouraged everyone to try a little bit of everything, even if they had never heard of or tried it. The plates were small enough that you could try a little scoop of everything without getting too full or wasting anything you didn’t care for, and then you could go back for seconds of your favorites. The fried okra was the one I was hesitant to try, but it turned out to be delicious. It looks like a fried jalapeño pepper, but it isn’t spicy at all.
I also commented on how good the sticky white rice and “peas” were, but my absolute favorite was the jerk chicken meatballs. They were spicy but not overwhelming and had barbeque sauce on them to compliment the sweet-spicy taste. For dessert I tried the rum cake and a lime, crème-filled cookie sandwich with green sugar placed inside a margarita glass. I like sweet desserts so the rum cake was a hit for me.
As people continued to try the various dishes, the staff announced the live entertainment portion of the evening – limbo! The winner of the contest received a dinner for two catered by Chef Josh.
AVI managers walked around to each table collecting comment cards from the guests and asking if they had any questions or suggestions about the dining facilities. Several students had questions about extending the hours of Flatz Express in Watson and adjusting the meal swipe allotment. Managers did announce that starting this fall, a Mexican concept will be established in Rocky’s due to the success of Taco Tuesdays.
Other students questioned if anything would be put into the old union building, where the old Rocky’s used to be, but the response was “no.” While there is still a kitchen facility in the old union, any additional dining facility there would most likely be similar to the existing ones now, and adding in another corporate chain similar to the partnership with Quaker Steak & Lube or Starbucks brings in other large issues, the managers said. However, new concepts are being developed to implement at Wisenfluh and T&B Naturally in the future, expanding both the size of the locations and the food selections.
Until next time, Butter Lovers.