Maryland students who frequent the Hillel at mealtime may notice a few changes since last spring. A new chef has come on board, bringing with him a new and improved menu with a tasty variety of dishes to appeal to a broader range of students’ palates.
“We want to make sure to give the students on the kosher meal plan, the very best food we possibly can,” said Allison Buchman, the head of Hillel dining services.
And the Hillel will do just that, with the help of Joe Phillips, the new head chef.
Phillips started in mid-August and comes with 20 years of experience. He has worked in hotels, resorts, country clubs, European markets and private schools. Phillips enjoys training his staff and getting the most out of people, to ensure successful food service. He has a passion for using local, fresh ingredients in his cuisine, which Buchman is excited to have incorporated into Hillel’s dining services.
“We hope to be able to offer a variety of kosher meals that are of excellent quality, are varied for different tastes, are healthful, and use many fresh, local and seasonal products,” Buchman said.
Most students are excited about the change and the possibilities it brings with it.
“I think it has the potential to be very positive. The new chef has the flexibility to make Hillel food really great,” Natan Haramati, a junior psychology and pre-dental major said.
Mark Nathanson, a sophomore mechanical engineer, agrees.
“I am excited about the change since it can help make meals at Hillel even better. Each chef has his or her own specialties and a new chef means new special items to try,” Nathanson said.
Nathanson added that one of his favorite meals at the Hillel is the shawarma (a Midde Eastern Dish in which meat is slow roasted on a spit) and French fries.
Other student favorites include BBQ meatballs, Israeli salad, meat cholent and the grilled food options.
Buchman says the feedback so far has been great and the Hillel dining services has gotten very positive reactions to the food.
Most students are especially excited about the new variety and options that the chef will be able to add to the menu—particularly students who keep kosher and are not able to experience the average college dining hall experience. Many are at a disadvantage and are limited in their meal choices and options.
“Simulating that experience at Hillel is very important and having a new chef there to provide more options of food, similar to that offered in the dining hall, provides students with a better dining experience,” Melissa Fuhrman, a sophomore Jewish studies major said.
Buchman says they are already offering a better and more varied menu with seasonal and local items but hope to add more menu items and food stations.
Students have other improvements in mind that they hope will come from the switch. Among them are a new and improved salad bar, more meat options in the meals and the hopes for some homestyle cooking.
“I am hoping the chef gives the menu a more home cooked feel without losing taste or variety. Who doesn’t like eating food that their mom could have made?” Nathanson said.
Phillips has heard the requests of the students and is delivering, big-time. I could see the passion in the way he spoke about bringing variety and fresh ingredients to the students of the Hillel when he talked about adding authentic cuisine to the menu. Phillips is way ahead of the students in adding variety to the menu. He is working hard to make meals inspired by Thai, Indian and Italian culinary traditions.
He spoke about all the progress he has made thus far but acknowledged that he has a long way to go. He explained the challenges he faces in the new kosher environment but reassures me that he is working with his staff and they are teaching him the process so he can better serve the Hillel community.
“It takes a little bit at a time,” Phillips said.
Phillips has also added more entrees, soups, and salad bar options and more creativity to the menu that he is sure students will enjoy. He is working very closely with his staff to ensure students are getting that fresh, from scratch cooking.
He stressed the importance of promoting sustainability and only using fresh products when he talked about the idea of advertising where the produce came from in the dining room; he estimates that about 60 percent of the produce used is from the local area and prides himself on his dedication to preparing and serving the best food possible.
Though both students and Phillips agree that there is still plenty of room for improvement, Hillel frequenters have many positive things to say about their dining experience.
“The best part of the food at Hillel is the community that eats together along with the ability to get kosher food on campus, something not many campuses can advertise,” Nathanson said.
Phillips said he is excited to be a part of the Maryland community and looks forward to continuing to improve students’ experiences at Hillel.