Campus Dining’s special meals are a taste of home

Inside the Marketplace at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Nov. 8, 2023. Nora Youngelson/The Occidental

As the Marketplace filled with its usual lunchtime rush, something looked a little different. The Sauté station was serving chile rellenos, Homestyle had a line for enchiladas suizas and the bakery laid out Mexican wedding cookies. This lunch was a collaboration between Humanities for Just Communities (HJC) and Campus Dining that culminated in a unique meal at the Marketplace Nov. 3.

Philosophy professor Clair Morrissey is the co-chair of HJC, a grant that funds student social justice projects on campus. According to Morrissey, HJC and Campus Dining have been working together since summer 2023 to make this event a reality.

“The event was at a normal lunchtime, but it featured home recipes from Campus Dining staff,” Morrissey said. “They made their favorite foods and actual recipes that people would cook for their families. This was all scattered throughout the dining hall. We had different recipes with a bio, a picture of who provided the recipe and a link to a recipe book.”

Executive Chef Martin Fernandez said that Campus Dining spent a significant amount of time planning the event and making sure that the home recipes they received from employees would work for large-scale dining. According to Fernandez, seeing the payoff of all the planning was definitely worth it.

“A lot of the folks were really excited,” Fernandez said. “There were some tears for people when seeing something that is close to home for them being served. It was a good feeling to see people excited about things that have either a cultural connection or just something from their childhood.”

Campus Dining Executive Chef Martin Fernandez outside of the Tiger Cooler at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Nov. 8, 2023. Nora Youngelson/The Occidental

Both Fernandez and Erik Russell, the assistant vice president of hospitality services, said that Campus Dining and food in general are essential aspects of the Occidental community.

“Campus dining is the communal heartbeat of the campus,” Russell said. “Dining, at its core, is people coming together to share meals and reconnect over those meals.”

According to Morrissey, HJC planned this collaborative event in relation to their social justice project theme of migration, displacement and cultural resilience. Morrissey said she worked closely with student representative Maya Watanabe (sophomore), who compiled all the recipes and interviewed the chefs.

“I found that most of the people I interviewed were really local,” Watanabe said. “I realized that the people in Campus Dining are the ones connecting the students and guiding us to this community. I was really happy to have a space to highlight the dining staff and to share that with the students.”

Assistant Vice President of Hospitality and Auxiliary Services Erik Russell outside of the Tiger Cooler at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Nov. 8, 2023. Nora Youngelson/The Occidental

According to Russell, Campus Dining is striving for this sense of community in every meal. He said that special events such as the one with HJC, as well as the approaching holiday meals, add both fun and excitement to the regular schedule.

“The first priority is giving the students something to look forward to that’s not just your everyday food service,” Russell said. “Keeping things fresh and exciting gives the students something to look forward to. We are exploring that on a deeper level as well, which is why we are going to be hiring two student interns in the spring.”

According to Russell, Campus Dining is always looking for ways to engage with the community and improve its services. Looking forward to the holiday season, both Russell and Fernandez said that the team is working hard to make the upcoming holiday meals delicious and special. The Marketplace will host Thanksgiving lunch Nov. 17 from 11 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. and the menu includes ham, turkey, stuffed portobello mushrooms, pumpkin bread pudding and more.

“The purpose of the holiday meals is to create some different meals for folks but also to be more connected to the community,” Fernandez said. “We are able to make something for folks who look forward to the holiday season. We all get to work on it as a team and present that to the community.”

Russell said that the Campus Dining team’s passion is what makes these special events possible, and he is hoping to do more collaborations in the future.

“This team is always working really hard,” Fernandez said. “And it’s a labor of love for a lot of us so it’s nice to see when the students are excited and when the community gets excited. At the end of the day, food is always a fun way to make connections, to sit down and share a meal with someone.”

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