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Soup’s On

Dining choices, in the age of quinoa and tofu, are a far cry from yesteryear’s mystery meat.

Joseph Charette the executive director of Dining Services
Joseph Charette, the executive director of Dining Services, oversees a staff serving nearly 30,000 meals daily. Photography by Nick Romanenko

Recalling how great things were when they were in college, alumni baby boomers do stop at one thing: dining hall food. No one has witnessed the evolution from mystery meat to quinoa—and made it happen—like Joseph Charette, executive director of Rutgers Dining Services, which serves the New Brunswick and Camden campuses.

Charette CC’77 oversees a staff of nearly 1,900 charged with serving 30,000 meals daily. Everything about those meals, from the way students queue up for them to the food itself, has changed since Charette was a student avoiding the Salisbury steak and double majoring in agricultural science and environmental science.

Students now select their meals at “stations” (the grill, the deli, the salad bar, the grain bar, the pasta station) or have something custom-made—they grab chicken breast for the stir-fry station or as a pizza topping—rather than file along lines serving a couple of entrées. Among the 5,000 inventoried items? Greek yogurt, quinoa, and soba noodles. With 15 chefs trained at the Culinary Institute of America and other culinary schools, entrées include dishes such as baked mahi mahi and pesto chicken.

Students today arrive at Rutgers familiar with Ethiopian, Thai, Vietnamese, and other international cuisines, and they expect nothing less. “A lot of the menu development comes from students,” says Charette, as does the emphasis on local produce, organic ingredients, and sustainability. “Young people want to be more socially responsible.” As for Charette, he favors Mexican food, though it’s got to be vegetarian. Blame it on the mystery meat.

                                                                                                                                                         — Allan Hoffman