Glenn Taylor, director of culinary services
Tell us about the range of dining options on campus.
We’ve blended a lot of what we do. It used to be separate between retail and all you care to eat options. It gives them a different way to dine on campus vs. traditional dining halls. We have made our facilities more flexible to the needs of the entire campus community by offering more ala carte service. We’ve gone through major renovations over the last three years. This generation is on the run. They want to take their food on the go. Those renovations allowed us to bring the kitchens up front, and everything is cooked to order in front of the customer. It’s not like the old days of setting up a food line and bringing out food. This improves the quality, it cuts back on waste and it gives customers the satisfaction of knowing we just cooked it for them.
Wells Central recently opened with two options in one building. We have catering and conference rooms upstairs. Downstairs we have a retail operation with separate venues that serve all the items you would need to dine: a small convenience store; a fabulous coffee bar and dessert area; a wood-stone pizza oven with what we hope is the best pizza on campus; Artisan, which serves sandwiches, world flavors serves ethnic selections and Traditions, which at lunchtime has a salad bar and homemade soups but at night serves traditional comfort foods such as roast beef, roasted turkey, macaroni and cheese, meatloaf and a pasta bar. In York, we plan to start a guest chef series featuring chefs from area restaurants, and in the next month, we’ll open a small grab-and-go area with convenience items such as pre-made sandwiches and salads. In the Marketplace, students are now able to use a meal swipe during lunch as opposed to using their dining funds. We’re also developing a new venue, Nature’s Palate, which will serve homemade dips and spreads on gourmet pitas. It will feature organic, sustainable and, when possible, local produce and products, along with healthy packaged snacks.
What if students miss home cooking?
They’re in luck. At York, we have a test kitchen, and we want to encourage students to bring their favorite recipes from home for us to try. If it works and we decide to add it to our menu, we’ll send parents a letter and have the students participate on the night their favorite dish is served. Last year, between 50 and 75 students submitted recipes, and we chose 15 finalists. From those, we’ve selected five Recipes from Home to be part of our regular menu rotation.
How does UMaine accommodate students with food allergies and special dietary needs?
We’ve changed the way this works. Through my office and the office of the menu manager, a student will contact us, set up a meeting, fill out proper documentation and go through the menus. This gets students to the point where they know what they can and can’t eat. It’s really a one-on-one thing. Nutritionist Kerry Chasteen works very closely with students and their parents. We really try to individualize it. Depending on the severity of the situation, we can modify the food plan. We can also take items off the menu and modify them so a student can eat them. Since we’re cooking to order more, we can do a lot of things now that we couldn’t do years ago. For students with very severe allergies, we’re in the process of setting up a secured kitchen in one of the dorms, where students can prepare their own food in a clean, safe, allergen-free environment. Our convenience stores carry some of the products students with allergies are looking for, including gluten-free, lactose-free, soy-based products, organic items and specialty foods. In all of our foodservice areas, we label foods that include peanuts or shellfish, as well as options that are vegan or vegetarian.
What advice do you give to students trying to decide which dining plan will best meet their needs?
Most meal plans have a block of meals and they have dining funds, both of which are available with a swipe of their MaineCard. Most of the time, students will choose a meal, but if they just want a snack or they don’t want a full meal, they’ll use dining funds. People who eat smaller amounts at a time need flexibility, and we encourage them to choose the dining plan with higher dining funds and fewer meals. The option with more meals and less dining funds is the most economical meal plan and a good choice for someone who eats 2-3 larger meals a day. If you have questions, please call our staff – they’ll ask about your student’s eating habits and recommend a meal plan that best fits his or her lifestyle. Students also have the chance to change their meal plan within the first four weeks of classes.
What should parents know about dining services at UMaine?
We try to customize every meal to our students. We don’t want them to think this is a big place where we put out a lot of food. Sometimes, it might seem that way, but we’re really focused on each student. We offer a large variety with a lot of healthy choices to suit everyone’s taste. We focus on cuisine from all over the world, but we also focus on more traditional comfort foods. We have vegetarian options at every venue and we’re trying to buy as much local produce and products as we can — we have 11 farms we pick and choose from during the growing season. We’re trying to make the switch to biodegradable, sustainable serving products, especially as we’re serving more foods to go. We don’t have everything, but we’re getting there.
Image Description: Glenn Taylor