Walnut Community

Chef Kurt Kwiatkowski

As the Corporate Chef of Culinary Services at Michigan State University, Chef Kurt is responsible for all on-campus dining operations, feeding tens of thousands of students, staff, and visitors. The university had chosen to open for in-person instruction for the Fall 2020 semester, but recently amended their decision to include only graduate students. Some undergrads will remain on campus living in dorms, but participate in remote learning. Therefore, MSU has chosen to only operate a select few dining and retail facilities on campus as well as implement specific health and safety measures to ensure a safe dining experience. Read on to find out how Chef Kurt and his team are continually shifting to accommodate so many factors in this uncertain time.

How are you pivoting your on-campus operations to cater to the incoming students among COVID issues?

Our on-campus operations are emphasizing health and safety as the No. 1 priority. We are partnering with colleagues across campus to share important messaging about what has changed and what students and guests can expect to see when they return for fall semester. Additionally, we are enhancing our grab-and-go selections in retail operations and offering the full menu in residential dining halls for takeout. We do have limited seating available in compliance with county, state, and federal regulations; however, the takeout option provides flexibility for those who prefer to find alternative seating or take their meal back to their residence hall room. Lastly, we are working to implement a mobile ordering app that will allow guests to preorder their meal and pay for it using their dining plan or Spartan Cash. We currently utilize Grubhub for preorder and pickup at Starbucks locations as well. These measures will help with flow of traffic and increase convenience for students.
What is one thing you learned during COVID, and how will you apply it or adapt it for future planning?
Grab-and-go options have been created to fulfill a need for the circumstances and for our operations; however, it has opened future ideas of more grab-and-go-style dining due to the successes and positive feedback.

How do you incorporate new, innovative menu items and menu trends?

We are diving deeper into international flavors and basic American cuisines on many levels. We are also working to create more dishes with common ingredients that we already are using.

Is your clientele interested in Plant-Based, Vegetarian, or Vegan menu options?
We see an interest in plant-based, vegan, and vegetarian choices, with more emphasis on plant-based options. Guests are open to this concept and interested in seeing us grow our plant-based offerings. Our team has been working hard to create more than 80 new plant-forward recipes that will be weaved into our campus menus starting this fall.

Where do you find inspiration for original recipes with walnuts?

The world of flavors. For me, it starts with a flavor or style of food I’m striving for and then I work backward from there.

Do you have existing menu items with walnuts? Or new dishes in the works?

We have been serving a walnut Bolognese with great success, as well as our own from-scratch walnut chorizo. New to the horizon is a lasagna with the walnut Bolognese sauce as well as a walnut béchamel sauce. Also in the works is a play on kofta using walnuts, lentils, and mushrooms as the base.

What aspects about California walnuts make them a unique ingredient, especially over another nut?

I like the nutritional profile of California walnuts, especially the omega-3s. To me, they are also more versatile to use in dishes, whether they are roasted or boiled. It allows you to explore different flavor profiles and textures.

What do you feel is the next big industry trend?

People are looking for more functional foods, which provide additional health benefits beyond basic nutrition. There will still be more analog meats that are going to continue to pop up, but I believe people will look more to whole foods and food items that contain ingredients they can pronounce and are familiar with.

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