BY MAX ADDINGTON – STAFF WRITER
Next to “How’d your test go?” and “What in the world is going on with this weather?,” the question “What’s at Cowan?” is one of the most frequently asked questions on a day to day basis at Centre. The answer to this question usually determines whether or not you end up going to Cowan, the Everyday Cafe, Sandella’s, or somewhere off campus for dinner.
While students primarily care about what Cowan has to offer for dinner that night, questions of how the food is prepared, where the ingredients come from, who exactly is making the meal, and what happens to the leftover food are often overlooked.
At the beginning of the the 2016-2017 school year, Sodexo hired a new head chef, Miguel Rivas, who now has a hand in preparing every meal prepared in Cowan. Chef Miguel moved to the United States from the Dominican Republic in 1991, and studied culinary arts in New York City, as well as briefly in Paris. Chef Miguel offers free monthly cooking classes to any interested member of the Centre community, including a Valentine’s Day couple’s class and region-specific cooking lessons.
“The cooking classes offer a different setting where students and faculty can feel free to express their ideas, complain, and open up a dialogue to ensure that we are achieving what we are supposed to be achieving,” Chef Miguel said.
Since Chef Miguel joined the Centre community, there have been many impactful changes and initiatives taken by Cowan. Some of these changes include the goal of moving away from canned items to purchasing local foods, a weekly superfoods salad bar, freshly ground peanut butter, as well as many event-driven themes like Mardis Gras and Oktoberfest.
Many of the recent changes have come about from student recommendations, showing that Cowan’s staff takes feedback very seriously. Walker Morrell, the Dining Services Representative, serves as the direct liaison between the Centre community and the Cowan staff. When asked about specific changes that have come about from student feedback, Walker stated, “It’s usually simple stuff. Coming back this Spring term, Cheerios weren’t being served as often. A student pointed this out, and since then the Cowan staff has been ensuring that Cheerios are available nearly daily. Also from student feedback, they’ve permanently added grilled chicken to the sandwich line.”
“Since Centre is a pretty small school, logistically it’s hard for Cowan to always accommodate for certain dietary restrictions,” Walker continued, “but if you just open up the kitchen door and ask Miguel, he will always be happy to make something custom for you.”
Chef Miguel reiterated this statement.
“Some students who have specific allergies or dietary restrictions text us before coming to Cowan and we always have a meal prepared for them by the time they come,” Chef Miguel said, “If there’s something missing in Cowan, I want people to feel free to open up the door and not feel strange asking me what they need, just like they were in their own kitchens at home.”
Chef Miguel is not alone in enacting these changes – Mike Nagorka, the General Manager of Cowan, has also played a huge role in ensuring Cowan’s student satisfaction, community involvement, and sustainable practices.
“This is the first year we have participated in the Danville backpack program. Quite a few kids are hunger sensitive in our community, especially on the weekends when they don’t get a school meal,” Nagorka said, “We made a $1,000 donation to Danville’s Families First program, and helped pack backpacks to give to kids on the weekends. Kids should be worrying about grades, not food. We also give around 10,000 portions of food to the community annually to the food kitchen in Danville, which tragically burned down recently.”
Sustainability is a huge concern held by much of the Centre community, not excluding the Cowan staff. Regarding sustainability, Nargorka explained, “One of the things we have always been pushing for is 100% sustainably sourced seafood, approved by the Marine Stewardship Council. We’re 95% of the way there right now.”
Looking forward, Nagorka said that they will offer monthly free tours to members of the Centre community to local farms and producers who Cowan buys from. Also, keep your eye out for a new Kentucky Proud vanilla ice cream in the dessert line!
Nagorka and Chef Miguel strongly encourage feedback from those who have suggestions or complaints in the form of comment cards located at Cowan’s exit, as well as through the texting program. Or, in the words of Chef Miguel, “Just open up the kitchen door and come find me.”