Something about the phrase “college cafeteria food” destroys appetites. The linoleum floors, cacophonous acoustics, stand-in-line style of receiving food, stereotypical image of a hairnet-wearing lunch lady popularized by Adam Sandler and The Simpsons - it creates this bastardized eating environment in which diners expect to consume unhealthy, massproduced meals. But in today’s farm-to-fork, socially-minded world, many colleges are taking a stand against such stereotypes, as is the case with Roger Williams University’s campus dining program.
Of the top 60 colleges for food in America as ranked by The Daily Meal, Roger Williams was in number 53, beating such opposition as Boston College, Dartmouth and University of Richmond. And while much of the success is due to the University’s commitment to sustainably source nearly 25,000 meals every week from local areas, it also has much to do with the talented chefs behind the program, such as the two latest additions, Chef Jonathan Cambra and Chef Reuben Haag.
Diehard East Bay eaters will undoubtedly recognize the name Jonathan Cambra, who worked as executive chef for both Tiverton’s The Boat House and Newport’s Castle Hill Inn. At both establishments, Cambra utilized his vision of sustainable food sources and locally-purchased ingredients to revolutionize their infrastructure, and now his nearly 15 years of experience in the restaurant industry does the same for Roger Williams.
Reuben Haag, on the other hand, has spent much of his 18 years of professional cooking and kitchen management experience in college dining programs. From Hamilton College in New York to St. Mary’s College and Grove City College, Haag has helped heighten the way colleges prepare and serve food to students.
More importantly than simply preparing food, though, these two chefs encourage students to think critically about the food being served. Where does it come from? Who grew it? How much were they paid? Answers for these questions come along as sides to whatever entrée is on the menu, attempting to change the way in which students view their food. After all, these are the individuals who tomorrow will pick up today’s farm-to-fork movement.
Thanks to institutions like Roger Williams, gone are the days of impressing upon college students the slam-bam-thank-you-ma’am style of serving and eating food. Now, a college education extends out of the classroom and into the cafeteria.