No mystery meat at Sodexo

Cranky women in hair nets serving up mystery meat and undercooked French fries are things of the past.

“We’re not the lunch ladies, We’re pretty easy-going.” Stephen Finn, general manager of Sodexo Food Service at St. Ambrose, said.

During his eight years as general manager, Finn has spent his weeks preparing and serving thousands of meals.

“It’s a huge process to put out a good meal,” Finn said. “Each of my 100 plus staff members serve a good and strong role.”

Sodexo is rooted in a strong mission of improving the quality of life for all they serve. The Sodexo food service at St. Ambrose takes extra efforts to make sure students receive nourishing and wholesome meals.

“Our stuff is batch cooked,” Finn said. “The old days of ‘cook and park’ when you’d cook all of the stuff and just put it in the warmer, we don’t do that. We’re actually are preparing as we go. We do it by pan.”

As food is prepared by the batch, leftovers are hardly left. Any leftover meat or vegetables are typically used in soups that Finn says are “all the rave” by students, faculty, and staff. To reiterate, Sodexo prepares everything by the batch.

Sodexo starts with Sysco, the world’s largest broadline food distributor. Finn has chosen Sysco of Ankeny, Iowa as his go-to supplier because of its impressive safety track record.

“They have a lot of checks and balances,” Finn said. “They make sure all of their producers are legitimately certified and are doing things right.”

Finn has made it a mission to steer away from processed food. In fact, Finn says the only processed meat ever served in the Cosgrove cafeteria is the chicken nuggets. He made sure to add that he checked the ingredient lists, and Sodexo nuggets are better quality than McDonald’s. Although, the way the eyes of students light up as they enter Cosgrove on nugget day, Finn’s observation probably does not matter.

“I know on our menu cycle they suggest we make it more affordable by using processed chicken breasts,” Finn said. “I don’t buy any of that. We use a good Grade A choice meat.”

And it is more than just the meat that can be trusted. The alfredo sauce is prepared from scratch with real cream. The pizza crust is rolled out and tossed by hand. Several of the vegetarian options come from recipes provided by international students that have lived on campus through the years. Finn orders dry ingredients from Sysco and starts with bases and then the cooks “jazz it up.”

Loffredo Fresh Produce Co., Inc., based out of Rock Island, Ill,. provides all of the fresh produce, from the lettuce at the sandwich station to the kiwi in the fruit stand. Loffredo offers several local, seasonal options- most coming from Maquoketa, Iowa. According to Finn, there is more produce in the cafeteria this year than in years past in response to requests from students.

“I would hate for any students to feel like they’re pushed into the food and that’s all they get,” Finn said. “It’s as easy as just asking us for a new kind of cereal and we will order it right there. I want students to realize we want to give them what they want.”

Above all, along with Sodexo, Finn tries to keep the menus simple.

“It’s all about figuring out what kind of menu we can serve with simple food without too much redundancy,” Finn said, “which allows us to be creative and try new things. We are always analyzing what works and what doesn’t work.”

These simple menus are created by the Sodexo student board of directors. The board meets once a year in Florida with a Sodexo senior operations manager to discuss food trends.

“The idea is getting different students that represent student bodies as a whole,” Finn said. “The board is made up of vegetarians, international students, your meat and potato loving men. You see it all.”

Sodexo accepts applications for the student board of directors every year. For more information about these positions or about Sodexo Food Service, contact Steve Finn at finnstephenm@sau.edu.

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