New kinds of rice are now being served with every meal in the University of Connecticut dining halls after students concerns over the low-quality of the old rice was brought to the attention of university dining services.
Dining Services began serving Chinese sticky rice and Japanese sushi rice in McMahon Dining Hall on Oct. 24. Rice cookers were put in all residential dining halls at the beginning of this week.
“Rice is a staple food for Asians, a vast majority of the meal is rice, I was looking forward to eating rice, but it was terrible,” Ruichen Zhao, an exchange student from Japan in the UConn American English Language Institute majoring in economics, said.
Zhao created and distributed a survey regarding the quality of the rice in the dining halls for his Program Based Learning class.
Zhao found that a majority of the, primarily Asian, students surveyed were dissatisfied with the quality of the rice served in the dining halls.
Zhao’s professor contacted UConn dining services and was referred to Rob Landolphi, the culinary operations manager.
“She had some students in her class, some were from China, some were from the Middle East, some were from India, and one of the staples they enjoy eating with their meals is rice, but they all like different varieties of rice and they all like it cooked a particular way,” Landolphi said.
The students were invited to come to a rice tasting and soon afterwards two of their favorite selections were incorporated into the menus of UConn’s dining halls.
“They picked what they liked, we put the recipes. We changed them in all our menus and we’re off, it was that simple,” Landolphi said.
The change to the new rice has gone extremely smoothly, Landolphi said.
“We are part of the university, so we’re self-operated, so for us to make a decision like that, we can literally make the change and implement it within 48-hours,” Landolphi said.
The new rice has become a popular item in dining halls.
“They’re going through it fast, we’re starting to see movement on it, which tells us that it was a good decision on our part and we’re glad the students brought it to our attention,” Landolphi said.
Zhao has also received positive feedback from his peers about the change that he catalyzed.
“My friend said it was very good. He had never seen a line for the rice, but there was a line waiting for the [new] rice,” Zhao said.
This is not the first time UConn dining services has modified its menu based on student feedback. Indian and Korean food served in the dining halls has its origins in students requesting a change.
“That’s where we get our ideas from: students,” Landolphi said. “We love it when students share [recipes] with us, especially students from other countries, and that’s how we better ourselves.”
Landolphi said that Dining Services takes advantage of the fact that many of the cultural centers at UConn use their test kitchen to prepare food for their fundraisers, giving dining services the chance to watch them make and taste the authentic cuisine.
“That has helped us because we kind of steal recipes from them as well, if we see something and we say, ‘Wow, that’s really good, that’s something we can use in one of our residential dining halls,’ that’s when we’ll put it on the menu,” Landolphi said.
Zhao said that he was pleasantly surprised by how accommodating dining services was.
“I feel very happy, because I am staying in America for only a semester, so I didn’t think I could change the rice,” Zhao said.
Landolphi said that dining services always welcomes students to come forward with feedback.
“We’re always open, if there’s anyone who wants to sit down and talk about recipes or share cuisine from where they’re from, we’re open for it,” Landolphi said.