UNM dining hall sees upgrade
Renovation offers more made-to-order options
Meet the college campus cafeteria, circa 2017: Students circle a cooking station, choosing ingredients they will ultimately hand to the waiting chef. Do they want broccoli and mushrooms on penne pasta? How about a made-to-order stir fry with spinach, chicken and a dose of Frank’s RedHot sauce?
If they are steering clear of major allergens, they can head to a special counter where nothing contains gluten, peanuts or seafood. And if they just want a slice of pepperoni, well, there is a Papa John’s counter too.
Such is the scene at the University of New Mexico’s La Posada dining hall following a $2.4 million overhaul. The renovation, completed over the summer, helped modernize the facility that dishes out what UNM food service contractor Chartwells has estimated is about 1 million meals annually.
That included lighting, mechanical, electrical and HVAC upgrades that the school expects to curb energy use by about 20 percent at the 24-hour-a-day dining hall. That could mean $50,000 in annual utility savings, estimated Melanie Sparks, executive director of UNM’s Institutional Support Services division.
But the more obvious changes include a single, prominent entrance — replacing two less conspicuous side doors — an influx of natural light, and a “chef innovation station” where students can choose which ingredients they want in their pasta, stir fry or even rice dish.
“It’s pretty nice, like Genghis Grill — and I love Genghis Grill,” freshman Zach Baros said during a mid-afternoon meal with friend Nelson Longmire.
On this occasion, however, the dormitory resident skipped the chef station and opted for some old dorm standbys: grilled cheese and pizza.
“I think there’s enough variety,” Baros said of the place he’ll be eating most meals this year.
About 3,000 students live on UNM’s Albuquerque campus, and 48-year-old La Posada is the only residential dining hall.
Christophe Descarpentries, Chartwells’ district executive chef, said college students’ taste is everchanging but UNM is meeting the current trend — giving students more made-to-order choices. In the past, Descarpentries said, the only pasta option might have been macaroni and cheese and “if you don’t like cheese, too bad for you.”
La Posada also has a New Mexican food counter, and officials say the dining hall gets about a quarter of its food locally, buying from New Mexico farms, cheese makers and dairies.
The renovation money came from a capital improvement fund Chartwells provides as part of its eightyear contract with UNM. Student meal plan costs rose 2.4 percent this year, according to Tim Backes of UNM’s dining and food services.
James Dean Stuart, a cook at the “chef innovation station” at the University of New Mexico’s primary dining hall, La Posada, hands student Linette Deane her alfredo meal on Wednesday.