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Cafeteria dishes out 300-400 meals daily

Students+indulge+in+the+lunch+buffet+at+Patterson+dining+hall.
Students indulge in the lunch buffet at Patterson dining hall.

Students indulge in the lunch buffet at Patterson dining hall.

Photo credit: Kyly Clark

Photo credit: Kyly Clark

Students indulge in the lunch buffet at Patterson dining hall.

Zoe Tuttle, Editor

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“Look at that drain. So sparkling you could eat off it!” says Aaron Zendner, head chef and kitchen manager for Sierra Nevada College’s food vendor, Sodexo.

From his post in the Patterson Hall cafeteria, Zendner obsesses over kitchen cleanliness. During his 10-year career at SNC, Zendner’s kitchen has never received less than a 100 percent score from Washoe County health inspectors. And it’s no small task. His crew feeds 300 to 400 people daily, with about 150 coming at lunchtime.

Zendner’s job pride extends to the menu, which features fresh, local ingredients whenever possible, a huge salad bar, and daily vegetarian and gluten-free options.

“My son just started his freshman year at UNR,” Zendner said. “He’ll come home and say, ‘Man, I wish I could just eat at SNC. The food is better.’”

Zendner said that the food quality is due in part to the cafeteria’s batch cooking policy. “We use batch cooking so we can keep things fresh,” he said. Batch cooking means cooking in smaller portions, but the downside is that students sometimes have to wait for their food.

SNC works directly with the Tahoe Food Hub to purchase locally sourced food. “For the Tahoe area, locally sourced means a 150-mile radius,” Zendner said. “A lot of locally sourced food comes from the Sacramento and the foothills areas just because there’s nothing north or east of us, and not a lot south of us.”

Locally sourced ingredients are especially important to ensure freshness in the salad bar. “The salad bar is the best thing we do,” Zendner said, referring to the abundance of organic fruits and vegetables. “I order what the students are asking for. Getting local and organic costs more money. Organic also isn’t the best looking. I try to get things that are recognizable, like apples.”

Zendner also promotes SNC’s core theme of sustainability. A self-claimed “food nerd,” he pays close attention to what foods actually get eaten. The most eaten meal in the cafeteria is chicken tenders and fries, served at the grill at lunch and dinner.

Zendner works with senior Celine Holland of the Green Council to compost food waste from the dining room. Holland sets up a scale in the cafeteria and measures the amount of food waste at dinner.

“I have seen consistent food waste from the salad bar, the grill, the vegetarian options, all the way to desserts,” Holland said. “Usually if a student has a complaint about the food, I ask them about it. They’re always blaming the chicken. But according to the waste, I think people are still eating it and wasting just as many other items that they choose to put on their plates.”

Zendner said he is happy to talk to students about their likes and dislikes in the cafeteria. “[Students are] welcome to come talk to me, we’re here to help… I’m not going to make everyone happy, but I’ll try,” Zendner said.

Holland added that students can help follow through with sustainable practices by serving themselves only the food they plan on eating and not wasting napkins or plastic cutlery.

Students who live in the SNC dorms have meal plans that allow them to scan their identification cards and get their meals. Portions are unlimited, and atudents are allowed to take food to go if they are unable to make it to a certain meal time, or if they can’t eat at that moment. For non-resident students, faculty or staff members, lunch is available for $10.50 and dinner $11.50.

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