The Real Food Cooperative’s second menu tasting took place Monday, March 10th from 6:30-9:00 in UU Room 220. As the founder of the Real Food Cooperative, a student-led food cart start up, I helped plan the event: booking the reception area, finding a commercial kitchen, designing and selling the tickets, purchasing ingredients and handling logistics. The Real Food Cooperative’s goal is to make student dining (not only at Cal Poly, but universities nationwide) less transactive and more participatory. We hope to do this by opening a student-led food cart serving gourmet grab-n-go meals sourced from local farms (and ultimately from Cal Poly’s agricultural enterprises) as a model for other members of the Cooperative Food Empowerment Directive (CoFED).
The purpose of the menu tasting was to get feedback on lunch dishes carried over from the first tasting as well as to try new breakfast dishes, take pictures of portion-sized dishes for market research purposes, have logistics more closely-resemble food cart operations and get press from the Mustang News. Twenty five students attended the event as tasters, four students came to observe and one journalist from the Mustang News was present. Additionally, there were nine students preparing and serving the food and three student-musicians. Which brings me to my next point: the band we booked proved indispensable. The soothing jazz (we chose that genre to set an upscale, fine dining vibe) maintained a calm ambience during long waits in between courses.
The tasting was broken up into three courses: breakfast, lunch/dinner and dessert. The breakfast options were breakfast burritos (meat and meatless option), ciabatta strombolis and french toast with cream cheese berry filling. The lunch/dinner options were quinoa wraps, Italian sausage and pepper sandwich, seasonal vegetable salad, prime rib sandwich with spicy mayo and horseradish and French tacos with sirloin steak and goat cheese. For dessert, we served a deconstructed PB&J with raspberry sorbet. The dishes were reflective of the ingredients that were seasonally available in San Luis Obispo County and in a way show our business’ deep connection to place.
The food was prepared by Head Chef Chris Sayegh and his kitchen support staff (Ashley Cipponeri, Grayson Shor & Will Medford). I wouldn’t have assumed the dishes represented Chris’ culture but as it turns out the marinara recipe belonged to his grandmother. I can’t say for certain, but I doubt the French taco and ciabatta stromboli were recipes passed down to Chris; rather, they probably reflected his experience working for Michelin-star restaurants in Los Angeles and New York.
The menu tasting was a great learning experience for my team and I. We realized that we needed to assign someone to delegate tasks for logistics instead of waiting til the last minute; booking a band was indispensable and shouldn’t be considered ‘discretionary;’ our menu items were delicious individually but lacked continuity that would make marketing difficult; more experienced volunteers were needed in the kitchen; the next tasting should take into account packaging. From a start up perspective, this event was an important stepping stone towards demonstrating to Campus Dining that student-led businesses can be taken seriously.