New dining hall at USC Village favors flavor and a healthful menu

Chef Nathan Martinez wants to provide a learning experience along with good food. (Photo by Gus Ruelas)


New dining hall at USC Village favors flavor and a healthful menu

USC Hospitality’s food philosophy guides fresh ideas from Chef Nathan Martinez

July 14, 2017 Ron Mackovich-Rodriguez

Everything gleams at USC’s newest dining hall, housed on the ground floor of the Thomas and Dorothy Leavey Foundation Honors Hall. Floors, countertops, tile and stainless steel shine beneath a collegiate gothic ceiling, in soft light that passes through stained glass. The man who will head up the kitchen is beaming with anticipation.

“This is gorgeous,” said Chef Nathan Martinez, admiring the space. “Imagine how beautiful this is going to be when we’re open.”

That day is not far off. In August, the 8,000-square-foot dining hall — which can seat up to 450 — will begin serving meals. It’ll be fully up to speed when students move in, ready to serve as many as 3,000 meals a day.

All those meals will align with USC’s Food Philosophy and the Menus of Change University Research Collaborative, which emphasizes seasonal foods, plant-based cooking, smaller portions of red meat and reduced salt and sugar. Above all is deliciousness, which research indicates is more important than nutritional benefits when it comes to enticing appetites. That’s why USC Hospitality doesn’t just serve carrots. They serve carrot osso bucco.

“Just like everybody, students want healthful food that tastes good,” said Erik Russell, associate director of residential dining for USC Hospitality. “The new dining hall gives us the perfect setting to serve those dishes, with a menu that’s on trend.”

Olives, tomatoes and artichokes

Martinez, who comes over from Café 84, is working with his team to fine-tune food preparation at the facility.

“The kitchen is highly innovative,” he said. “Our exhaust hoods are automatic and the floors clean themselves. Plus, we have all brand-new equipment.”

Martinez is enthusiastic when he talks about the offerings, which include a Mediterranean bar with hummus, baba ghanoush, fresh Greek olives, marinated sun-dried tomatoes and artichokes, along with pasta salads.

The salad bar features 42 items and there’s a full deli bar. Also on the menu: vegan bowls with fresh summer vegetables, Buddha bowls and yogi bowls.

One station will be stocked with Asian cuisine, including moo shu wraps, stir fry, gyoza and ramen. Big wheels of parmigiano-reggiano cheese will be sliced and served with prosciutto.

The last course will be sweet, as the dessert station will be the biggest on campus, featuring a gelato bar, sorbets, fresh cobblers and mini-pastries.

We’re taking it to a higher level, with a restaurant feel.

Nathan Martinez

The dining hall at USC Village, along with Parkside Restaurant and Everybody’s Kitchen, are open not only to students, but to anybody who likes the “all-you-care-to-eat” experience.

For Martinez, a dining hall isn’t all that different from an academic hall, and he wants to provide a learning experience along with good food.

“We’re taking it to a higher level, with a restaurant feel,” he said. “When these students graduate, we hope they take these healthier eating habits with them.”