New monthly R&DE Stanford Dining program emphasizes seasonal, local ingredients

It was Thursday night and cauliflower kuku, the evening’s starter, had just been served at Executive Chef Erica Holland-Toll’s weekly Chef’s Table in Arrillaga Family Dining Commons. Made with eggs, cauliflower, turmeric and caramelized onions, the Persian dish rose soufflé-like from brown ramekins.

“Eggs are a canvas ripe for experimentation,” explained Holland-Toll. Ten students reached for tiny spoons and sprinkled their “canvases” with ingredients from small bowls around the table. Caught off guard by the flavor-packed punch of smoked serrano pepper, zhoug (a chile and herb paste) and other spices and condiments, some students nodded in appreciation while others experienced watery eyes and a coughing fit or two. “I’m Persian and even I’ve never tried some of these spices before,” laughed Kimiya Hojjat, MA ’17.

At the Chef’s Table in Arrillaga Family Dining Commons, Executive Chef Erica Holland-Toll sprinkles falafel with Dukkah, an Egyptian spice blend made of hazelnuts, sesame seeds, fennel seeds, coriander, cumin and chili flakes. Photo: Keith Uyeda
At the Chef’s Table in Arrillaga Family Dining Commons, Executive Chef Erica Holland-Toll sprinkles falafel with dukkah, an Egyptian spice blend made of hazelnuts, sesame seeds, fennel seeds, coriander, cumin and chili flakes. (Photo: Keith Uyeda)

This uncharted taste exploration – to go where no taste bud has gone before – is exactly what RESIDENTIAL & DINING ENTERPRISES (R&DE) Stanford Dining hopes to accomplish with its Harvest of the Month (HOTM) program. Launched in January, HOTM highlights a different ingredient or set of ingredients each month. In April, the culinary spotlight showcased herbs, chilies and spices, by featuring menu items like the kuku and a Saigon cinnamon panna cotta.

“Harvest of the Month strives to introduce students to ingredients they may have never tasted or seen before, and to educate them on different ingredients – both in regard to nutrition and sustainability benefits,” said Eric Montell, executive director of R&DE Stanford Dining. “We want to provide a unique experience to go along with our students’ meals.”

Along with Chef’s Table menus, vibrant HOTM ingredients drive menu creation in campus dining halls and are featured in various ways within Stanford Dining – at the Tasting Table at Arrillaga Family Dining Commons, at Tuesday night chef-inspired seasonal plates, in the Teaching Kitchen @ Stanford student culinary classes, in teaching gardens and at special dining events.

The crispy skin chicken marinated in advieh, a Persian spice blend with rose petals and cardamom was served at the Chef’s Table. Photo credit: Keith Uyeda
The crispy skin chicken marinated in advieh, a Persian spice blend with rose petals and cardamom, was served at the Chef’s Table. (Photo: Keith Uyeda)

HOTM provides Stanford Dining chefs an opportunity to focus on ingredients in season, when they taste the best, noted Montell. Citrus peaks in January, so all things juicy, tart and sweet ruled the dining halls that month. In February, root vegetables – the knobby spinsters of the produce bin – got some HOTM love: Holland-Toll’s Valentine’s Day High Tea menu included fermented beet kvass, breakfast radish tea sandwiches and mini-cupcakes with vanilla-beet buttercream icing.

Tami Chau Lin, executive chef at Wilbur Dining, enjoys the chance to introduce new ingredients to students and staff. Playing off April’s herbs, chilies and spices, Lin whipped up a Caprese salad, using melon instead of mozzarella along with strawberries, mint and lots of fresh herbs. “Every month is different, so every month is special,” she said.

While the chefs have cornered the market in lusciousness, they also want to engage students with hands-on activities. In March, for example, when not much is ready for harvest, HOTM featured beans and pulses, which are the edible seeds of plants in the legume family. Lunchtime visitors to the Tasting Table in Arrillaga Family Dining Commons rolled up their Stanford sweatshirt sleeves and ground chickpeas for flour, which was then used to make socca, a pancake from southern France. “It was cool for students to see how you can grind dry beans and make flour from things other than wheat,” said Holland-Toll.

This month’s ingredients – berries, flowers and seaweed – are popping up all over the dining halls, including at a special Cinco de Mayo’s eve menu tonight, May 4, at Stern Dining. Look for lots of avocado – yes, avocados are berries, in case you didn’t know.