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Notre Dame dining halls to host celebrity chef

| Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Students can tantalize their taste buds Tuesday evening as celebrity chef Jet Tila flies in from Los Angeles to serve up a range of Asian favorites, with a special focus on Thai cuisine.

Between 5 and 7 p.m. at both dining halls, the “Chef Jet Menu” will be a step up from the usual dining hall fare, with the appearance of dishes such as honey ginger salad; tom yum soup, a Thai spicy and sour soup; drunken noodles and pad thai, according to a Notre Dame Food Services (NDFS) press release.

Apart from performing cooking demonstrations at South Dining Hall, which will be video-streamed to screens at both dining halls, the Cordon Bleu graduate and current Food Network chef will present a new signature dish for NDFS. This is all part of NDFS’ “continued improvements and diversification,” the press release said.

“Back in the beginning of the spring semester, we started having conversations on a visiting celebrity chef series and being able to bring someone onto campus,” NDFS director Chris Abayasinghe said. “With this week leading into the last day of classes … we thought this was the perfect time to do it.”

Fans of Thai food like freshman Matt Williams are excited about the initiative to bring quality and variety to the dining halls.

“I think it’s really cool that they’re spicing things up and bringing in new options to the dining hall,” Williams said. “I come to North most of the time, so I feel like there’s more variety here than there is at South, so I feel South in particular could use some spritzing up. But yeah, more options would be good, especially ethnic foods so I can’t complain about that.”

Besides satisfying the palates of those familiar with the cuisine, Abayasinghe said he also wants to target those who have had limited or no exposure to Thai food.

“Thai food has some strong universal tones — you have certain curry flavors, fresh basil, ginger — a lot of common ingredients you see throughout many cultures’ cuisine,” Abayasinghe said. “When we think about authenticity, which I think is really what the Notre Dame student is keen on … having a premier chef here to train our staff, I think, will go a long way to our students in terms of acceptance and satisfaction for a meal.”

According to the Office of Sustainability website, more than 11,000 meals are served daily at the two dining halls. Although the special menu was designed with practicability in mind, Abayasinghe emphasized the attention to detail “down to the specific brand of fish sauce [Tila] wanted.”

“We worked closely with Chef Jet and his team to identify menus that would have both a complexity of taste as well as an easily executable menu for the amount of customers we feed every night,” Abayasinghe said.

Abayasinghe said the performance could serve as a model for future events.

“The menu items that we will feature will also help us gauge student interest and specific items for us to schedule for future menus,” he said. “The quickest gauge is based on how much of one product we make.”

In addition to overseeing the preparation and serving of the food, Tila will train staff on the “significant differences” in cooking different cuisines, such as layering spices and timing to balance flavor and texture, Abayasinghe said.

“As we think about the Food Network and its universal appeal to people of various age demographics, inviting [the] chef here is both an opportunity for him for that one-on-one contact with our students and also an opportunity for us to focus on cutting-edge culinary techniques,” he said.

According to a NDFS press release from January, Notre Dame was ranked ninth in Niche’s 2015 rankings of best campus food, based on a survey of 64,000 students.

For those without meal plans, tickets to the Chef Jet event will be available at the dining hall entrances for $16 for adults and $8 for children aged 6 to 12. Children aged 5 and under are free.

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About Samuel Chan

Samuel Chan is a sophomore exchange student from the University of Hong Kong, double majoring in journalism and marketing. He lives in Knott Hall and has spent his life back and forth between Hong Kong and the East Coast.

Contact Samuel