Driven to serve

SHEPHERDSTOWN – It may be illegal to send texts from behind the wheel, but Shepherd University chef Scott Anderson sees plenty of young people flagrantly Texting While Dining.

“Look around,” Anderson said during a recent tour of the school’s main dining hall. “Whether students are by themselves or sitting with a group, they’ve got their phones out sending message.”

But assessing students’ phone habits isn’t some idle pastime for Anderson, who studied history and political science at Pennsylvania’s Edinboro University before joining the catering department at Shepherd in 1991.

Scott Anderson, associate director and chef for dining services at Shepherd University, says custom-made grilledsandwiches, Asian noodle dishes, gluten-free options and comfort foods are among the latest dining room trends.

Scott Anderson, associate director and chef for dining services at Shepherd University, says custom-made grilled
sandwiches, Asian noodle dishes, gluten-free options and comfort foods are among the latest dining room trends.

Given that students use their smart phones during meals, Anderson sought to make Shepherd’s menus “text-friendly,” meaning he serves foods that can be eaten neatly even as students keep their eyes and a hand on their phones.

“So if you’re serving pasta, you don’t want something that’s going to be difficult to eat with one hand where students are going to drip sauce or have noodles dropping onto their shirtfronts,” said Anderson, a 45-year-old father of three whose love of cooking dates to his teen years, when he’d cook with his grandmother and great-grandmother.

Rather than long strings of spaghetti, Shepherd students now are more likely to sit down to penne and other compact pasta shapes that better hold onto sauce, Anderson said.

Such attention to students’ needs and preferences wasn’t part of the playbook 20+ years ago when Anderson first arrived at Shepherd.

“When I started, there were two long lines for students,” Anderson said. “It was very a militaristic setup and it hadn’t changed since the ‘50s. Students went through the line and workers put food on their plates. Even if you wanted a sandwich, you couldn’t make it yourself – you had to point to the ham, point to the cheese, and someone put it together and placed it on your tray.”

Now instead of a one-meal-fits-all approach, Shepherd students – who are finishing up their fall semester finals this week – have a plethora of dining options, similar to the spectrum of choices found in a mall’s food court: make-your-own sandwiches; grab-and-go meals; gluten-free and vegetarian entrees; fresh, local fruit; made-to-order Asian and Mexican meals, and more.

On a recent day, a staff member manning one of the dining hall’s stations stayed busy making a panini with a recipe of Anderson’s. Built on fresh, whole-grain ciabatta and layered with grilled chicken, avocado slices, brie and greens, the sandwich is among students’ favorites, second only to a buffalo chicken sandwich served with ranch or bleu cheese sauce.

Pizza, burgers and fries remain a cafeteria staple and comfort foods such as mac and cheese won’t go away anytime soon, Anderson said, but students’ expectations about meals clearly have evolved over the years.

“Things started to change here around 1996 – we introduced pizza and that was the first move away from the serving line,” Anderson said. “There was some resistance initially from some on staff. Suddenly we weren’t doing things the way we’d always done them.”

Anderson, who joined Shepherd thinking he’d work there only while he finished his degree, continued to move up in the ranks and soon realized he’d found his calling. The mix of tasks suits him perfectly, Anderson said, with his time split among cooking, planning menus, creating recipes and sharing what he’s learned at Shepherd with local schoolchildren, community groups and others.

He said he’s grateful for the support he continues to receive from the school’s foundation, which has allowed him to attend weeklong workshops at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., for several years where he has refreshed his skills in soups, stocks, sauces and more.

Ensuring that students who rely on the dining hall for multiple meals a day stay satisfied provides a constant challenge, Anderson said. “Every four years, we have a whole new batch of customers that we need to make happy,” he said. “We’re always tweaking everything we do here to make sure we’re meeting our students’ needs.”

Shepherd chef offers a salad recipe

SHEPHERDSTOWN – Avocados and fine cheese are favorites of Shepherd University top chef Scott Anderson.

The Shepherdstown resident, who serves as a chef ambassador to the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, recently created a recipe that’s highlighted on the California Avocado Commission’s website.

Here, he shares the recipe with the Spirit:

Smoky Grilled Caesar Salad with California Avocado

Ingredients

1 head Romaine, rinsed, bottom removed, and leaves cleaned

1 (8 ounce) avocado, peeled, pitted, cut into quarters

2 slices red onion, sliced ¼-inch thick

1 cup fresh croutons, toasted

½ cup shaved Romano cheese

4 ounces Caesar salad dressing

4 teaspoon white balsamic vinegar

Extra virgin olive oil or grapeseed oil, as needed

Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

Heat a grill to medium-high heat and brush the grill grate with oil.

Brush Romaine leaves lightly with oil, then place on grill, turning once. Remove when leaves have grill markings. Add the avocado pieces and onion slices to the grill for about 2 minutes, or until grill markings appear. Do not turn. Remove from grill.

Tear or cut Romaine leaves into bite-size pieces, and divide onto four plates. Separate the grilled onion slices into rings. Divide the onion rings among the four plates. Add a quarter avocado to each plate.

Top each salad with two tablespoons of shaved Romano cheese, ¼ cup of fresh croutons, and a light drizzle of the Caesar dressing.

Drizzle each plate with a teaspoon of white balsamic vinegar. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

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