Arrillaga Family Dining Commons

The Arrillaga Family Dining Commons serves up to 1,300 meals a shift, with food also available as part of a pilot project between traditional meal times. (Photo: L.A. Cicero)

First new dining facility in 20 years celebrates its first quarter

The design of the new Arrillaga Family Dining Commons integrates nutrition, sustainability, community and aesthetics as it encourages healthy eating habits.

Stanford students can't major in cooking. But at the new Arrillaga Family Dining Commons, they can attend a Culinary Studio.

Thursday, to the strains of a student string quartet, staff members from Residential and Dining Enterprises (R&DE); Student Affairs; Land, Buildings and Real Estate and others sipped eggnog and hot chocolate, tasted Basque stuffed eggs created by celebrity chef Gerald Hirigoyen and admired the new facility before listening to a series of speakers who lauded the "unwavering, steadfast and dedicated support" of John Arrillaga.

Those words, from Shirley Everett, senior associate vice provost for R&DE, were typical of the praise heaped on Arrillaga, whose name graces more than one building on campus.

L.A. Cicero Chef Nijo Joseph talking to Dr. Christine Gabali

Regional chef Nijo Joseph, left, worked at the grand opening ceremony for the Arrillaga Dining Commons on Thursday. Here, Dr. Christine Gabali listens to him describe the seared salmon on quinoa cake appetizer.

And he doesn't just like sports, commented Eric Montell, executive director for Stanford Dining. "He's a foodie; who knew?"

Everett in her remarks referred to an unusual problem, which earlier had appeared on the pages of the Stanford Daily: The dining commons was too popular at first, and the staff and kitchens were overwhelmed.

"I said a prayer," she told the crowd. "I wanted the students to come, but I also wanted them to eat in their home dining facility. And God answered my prayer, little by little."

According to the Daily, Stanford Dining mounted a campaign in October to send students back to their own dining halls, which seems to have worked.

The new 35,000-gross-square-foot commons is the first dining hall to be built on campus in almost 20 years. Located in the former parking lot between Toyon and Branner halls on Escondido Road, it opened in September. Although open to all students, the dining areas are specifically designated for Crothers, Crothers Memorial and Toyon residents.

Among its many amenities is the second-floor Culinary Studio, where students can watch food preparation, take cooking lessons and participate in demonstrations that can be televised on flat-screen panels located throughout the building.

Over the past several years, Stanford, along with the rest of the country, has recognized that food is a social issue. In Everett's words, the university strives for "synergistic food." Eating right, eating well, linking food production and consumption and realizing we are what we eat – all these elements have become part of students' daily lives and are reflected in the new dining hall.

Off the back burner

The two-story dining commons had been on the back burner for nearly three years. Then Arrillaga, a Stanford alumnus, stepped forward, and the project was on the fast track.

The design of the dining commons integrates nutrition, sustainability, community and aesthetics. It serves up to 1,300 meals a shift, with food also available as part of a pilot project between traditional meal times. The Dish, a late-night dining offering formerly at Stern, stays open until 2 a.m.

Designed to encourage community, the building boasts lounge areas, meeting rooms, study halls, games and a viewing area where students can watch cooks prepare food. Upstairs there are projection systems for movie nights, sporting events or educational programs.

The building is as sustainable as the food consumed inside. The heating and hot water system will be connected to the campus hot water loop, which conserves water and energy, once that infrastructure is completed in that part of campus. Currently, the heating system is fueled by natural gas. Lighting optimizes natural daylight, and the kitchens are energy efficient. A small experimental outdoor vegetable garden was first planted in October.

The commons is a physical manifestation of a new program called Performance Dining, sponsored by Stanford Dining, Stanford Athletics, the School of Medicine and the Culinary Institute of America. There are six components to Performance Dining: enhanced immunity, anti-inflammatory components, food synergy, brain performance, sports performance and antioxidants.

Foods on display on Arrillaga's marble counters – salads, desserts, breakfasts, etc. – are tagged with signs showing which of those categories they embody.

Nothing like it

Mark Bonino, program manager in the Department of Project Management, oversaw the building's creation in collaboration with R&DE and Campus Planning. Bonino said he was very happy with the result.

"I think that what will most strike guests is the dining experience on the second floor," he said. "With lots of glass in the dining halls, there are great views. You can choose a table looking out over the Toyon oak grove, almost touching the trees, or one with a great view of Hoover Tower or the foothills. The amount of natural light brings the outdoors inside. And if you feel like eating outside, there are tables on the balcony and in the arcade. There really is nothing like it on campus."

As an enthusiastic Montell told the crowd Thursday, the dining hall "is really cool, really awesome." On a more elevated note, he said his inspiration had come from Henry David Thoreau, who said, "Be not simply good; be good for something."