Greg Blanchard jiggles a long knife through a tray of rice crispy treats, careful not to scatter the red, yellow, green, and brown M&Ms on top.
“The students love these,” the associate director of the Rotunda says, placing the treats on a dessert line.
The Rotunda does the largest volume of WSU’s three dining halls. It is the only dining hall on the south side of the Pullman campus, where 60 percent of the students in residence halls live. When filled, the circular dining room seats 760.
The Rotunda averages 3,500 servings daily, Regents 1,500, and Wilmer-Davis 1,400.
Rotunda sales, including those at Flix, a popular after-hours café in the basement, totaled nearly $6 million last year. Blanchard budgeted $1.2 million for food, $980,000 for labor.
WSU Dining Services is a $15 million operation campus-wide.
On a whirlwind tour through the spacious kitchen, Blanchard talks about a new combination oven that offers the convenience of a separate steamer with dry heat in the same unit. Now he covets a tilt fryer, nearly five-feet long. With the sides up and using cooking oil for stir-fry food, he could provide 300 servings at one time, rather than the current 60-70.
So what are students eating?
Just about everything.
And how much?
Students put away 800 slices of pizza a day. For many, it is an “add on” to cheeseburgers, French fries-300 pounds per day-entrée, salad, dessert, and beverages.
Moving into the Rotunda, Blanchard says, “The food options begin here.” To his left is a large rectangular cooler containing 800 half-pint cartons of milk. Students consume more than 2,500 half-pints per day. Nearby “grab and go” items include yogurts, boxed juices, crème cheese, and peanut butter. Push a button in one of the dozen clear plastic dispensers, and cereal flows like sawdust out of a hopper. Lucky Charms and Cinnamon Toast Crunch rank first and second, respectively. Pancakes, waffles, eggs, hash brown potatoes are other breakfast options. On Wednesday evenings students consume 400 to 500 six-ounce New York steaks, prepared 30 at a time on covered grills on the loading dock.
Students surveyed listed their favorite foods as steak, barbequed ribs, chicken strips, cheese lasagna, mashed potatoes and gravy, and corn on the cob.
A fruit bar offers fresh and canned fruit (3,200 pounds total per week). All baked goods are prepared in the WSU bakery for distribution to the dining halls. At the self-service deli bar, students build 1,200 pounds of sandwiches per week. Fixings include five meats, egg salad, tuna fish, and imitation crab. The salad bar fares even better-more than 3,000 pounds per week at nine cents per ounce. A typical salad weighs two to three ounces.
Other venues? The pasta bar on Tuesdays and Thursdays totals 1,000 pounds, including Alfredo, chicken Alfredo, beef ravioli, and spaghetti. The bar converts to tacos and nachos-850 pounds per week-on Sundays, Mondays, and Wednesdays.
Are the students worried about their intake?
“I don’t know?” Blanchard responds blankly. “They’re young. They will run if off. Or work it off some way.”
A dietitian is on the staff. Day and week menus are posted on the entryway wall. So is information on calories, fats, proteins, carbohydrates, food allergies, and food options for vegetarians.
International students typically try as many foods as possible-at least once, before settling on their favorites. White rice is available at lunch and dinner. Chicken fried rice, shrimp rice, Mexican rice, and rice pilaf-a big hit with vegetarians-is offered weekly.
The newest fare includes Thai, Japanese, Mediterranean, and Caribbean cuisine with “lots of vegetables.” Students like it.
At least once each semester, the Rotunda digs deep into its pockets to offer an eight-ounce serving of prime rib.
“It was expensive. . . $4-$5 per pound at the market,” Blanchard says, “but several times a year we can afford to subsidize it for our students.”