ISU Dining chefs cater to students tastes


Photo: Huiling Wu/Iowa State Daily

Jeff Arthur is the resident chef at the Memorial Union Food Court. Arthur often travels to different cities and watches cooking shows like “No Reservations” for food inspirations.

Karen Jennings

Each day on campus, 8,711 students eat meals from ISU Dining facilities. What students may not realize is that ISU Dining chefs are behind most meals they choose at any dining center. 

There are seven chefs on campus, working at the dining centers and ISU Dining’s catering service. Each chef works every day, with little time to spare.

“We want to make food the focal point of who we are,” said Nancy Levandowski, director of ISU Dining. “Chefs understand the importance of the appearance and the taste of our food options. Their focus is making real food that looks and tastes great, and that is what we want for our students.”

On any given weekday, Jeff Arthur, sous chef and assistant manager of food service, is in the kitchen of the Memorial Union Food Court preparing meals and managing dining employees.

Chefs also teach the rest of the staff how to prepare recipes, balance flavors and properly serve the food, Levandowski said. 

When he isn’t preparing meals for students, Arthur is conceptualizing them for the future.

“I watch cooking shows when I have the time,” Arthur said. “I usually watch ‘No Reservations.’ Based on what is on the show, I might take it and cook it. I also like to visit other cities and try out other restaurants I [haven’t visited].”

Through trying out new recipes and seeing what others are doing, Arthur finds inspiration for things he might consider bringing to campus. When ideas are proposed, he tries them and allows others to test the new concoctions.

“Students and staff bring recipes to me, and there is a group that tastes to see if it is good or not,” Arthur said.

Arthur grew up in Ames and found himself immersed in the culinary world after working at Aunt Maude’s when he was 16. He attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., and graduated with an associate’s degree in occupational studies.

Arthur’s curiosity about food led him to work at places such as the Four Seasons Hotel, Newport Beach and Michael Mina’s Nobhill in Las Vegas. Arthur has been working for Iowa State for three years. 

“[ISU Dining is] everything I expect out of a chef job,” Arthur said. “[I like] special events that I have the opportunity to plan menus for.”

Aside from preparing meals and bringing in new recipes, the campus chefs also spend part of their time tweaking recipes that are already used.

“We change recipes as often as needed,” said Torin Munro, sous chef and Seasons assistant manager. “We [might] use a recipe from a catering event that needs to be changed, or a base spice will no longer be available. Other times it is using a fresh set of eyes on a recipe that has been a part of ISU for a long time, but no one used it because the end result wasn’t what people were looking for.”

Munro has worked in restaurants since he was 14. Like Arthur, Munro attended the Culinary Institute of America.

Munro graduated in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in culinary arts management and moved to North Carolina, where he became head chef of a small restaurant that specialized in local, organic, seasonal foods. He moved to Iowa a year later to work with ISU Dining.

“I enjoy the student workers and our customers,” Munro said. “Compared to restaurants where you only have a few regulars, I have the luxury of having about a thousand.”

The chefs on campus are also responsible for identifying foods and beverages popular among students, and quality control of the food the dining centers prepare.

ISU Dining’s chefs do what they can to act upon students’ suggestions. If students want to suggest recipes, they can tell or e-mail an employee, contact ISU Dining on Facebook or fill out comment cards.