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Q&A: Talking Turkey and Mongolian grill with Campus Dining’s Executive Chef Ken Kline

By Cameron Bones

Campus Dining is committed to fueling Cal Poly students with a wide variety of healthy options that are locally grown, sustainable and taste great! To achieve our mission, Campus Dining is planning to introduce several new menu options for the start of the 2017 school year. We sat down with Executive Chef Ken Kline to talk about these new additions and how they will fit the needs of Cal Poly students.

Q: What can students expect to see in the fall?

A. We know students want variety — at our all-you-care-to-eat venue we’re doing a burger bar, build-your-own deli sandwich station, gyro station, Mongolian grill, pasta bar, scramble station for breakfast, and we’re brainstorming more ideas every day. It’s just one way Campus Dining is providing students with more options.

Students also want more options for dietary restrictions. We’re putting in gluten-free pasta, composed salads, tostadas, gluten-free beer-battered fish and more. We’re researching gluten-free flour, so we can start making more baked goods. We’re constantly looking for new ways to serve students with dietary restrictions.

In addition, we’re having more of our chefs serving the food. Having a chef-attended station enhances the experience because students can interact with the person who’s making the food they eat. It allows students to make connections and give any feedback they have about the menu.

We’re also making options more accessible to students. Our new sandwich venue in the University Union neighborhood will have an express line offering pre-made sandwiches plus an express line combo that includes one sandwich, a pickle spear or crudité and a choice of two deli sides. Additionally, Starbucks fresh brewed coffee and iced coffee will be available at three more locations for a total of seven convenient places for students to get their favorite cup of coffee.

Q. Why are new changes being made to Campus Dining?

A. I think it’s just a sign of the times. My generation took food for granted. If it looked good and tasted good, we ate it! That has changed — students and young adults grew up with a lot more education, so they know what good food is. They care about nutrition and sustainability more than past generations, so we’re giving them what they want — change.

Q. How did you decide what new options to introduce?

A. We did an online survey and more than 3,800 students participated. We also conducted more than 13 focus groups to get a better sense of what the majority of Cal Poly students want. We took all of that data, broke it down and now we’re focusing on making menus based on survey results.

Q. Who was involved in creating/planning the new items?

A. It is a team effort under the leadership of a new dining director and myself. There are a lot of talented people here with a lot of passion. All of the chefs and sous chefs have great ideas and experience. We have a really good team here and nothing really happens unless you have a good team.

Q. How do you think students will respond to these new Campus Dining options?

A. We conducted surveys, and the results were overwhelmingly positive. They really like the variety. In the spring of 2017, we rolled out a few of the menu items to test them out. Students talked to me at the chef-attended station and they told me that they thought the changes were awesome. Also, we monitored how many people were coming though our all-you-care-to-eat venue by the hour, and the average was about 300 more customers per day than we had the quarter before. We’re doing something right, and it’s all because we have such an awesome team.