It’s shortly after noon on a Thursday, and a line of about two dozen people has formed outside the East Campus Dining Center.
Conversations drift through work topics and summer plans while each person waits their turn to ask Sean Jones, the line cook tending the grill, which of the latest smoked meats he recommends. One diner can’t decide and orders both the beef short ribs and pork sausage. Jones takes the freshly smoked meats, gives them a flip on the grill to make sure they’re hot, and adds a glaze of sauce inspired by Oklahoma barbecue flavors.
It’s unusual to see such a large group of people gathered outside on East Campus during the summer months, but it’s exactly what Marilou Wyatt had hoped for when she and Dawn de Groot, the dining center’s manager, began planning for the weekly barbecue and burger days being offered on Thursdays and Fridays through the end of July.
“Food brings people together,” said Wyatt, production manager for the center. “It can bring different cultures, different backgrounds together. For me, growing up in the Philippines, my mom always cooked so much, sometimes for the whole neighborhood, and it was our language of love.”
Wyatt said she and de Groot wanted to change up the offerings at the only dining center on East Campus. They began brainstorming new themed menus and decided to expand on the summer barbecues and grill-outs that had been previously offered.
The two months’ worth of menus reached beyond traditional barbecue and cookout foods and incorporated popular foods from other cultures.
“We have regional foods, but we also added foods from other countries,” Wyatt said. “It’s good to incorporate those foods sometimes because we have people from all different ethnic backgrounds on campus. I want them to feel at home.”
The weekly menus have offered tastes from Kansas City and Texas to Greece, Jamaica and the Philippines — which was an extra bonus for Wyatt, who was able to incorporate some of her favorite recipes.
“We did things like a pork adobo, and pancit, which is a rice noodle dish, and banana egg rolls for the dessert,” she said.
The planning for new menus and foods takes several months, as dining center staff first have to test a recipe and then have it loaded into the NetNutrition program. Looking ahead, Wyatt said they have some other themed days coming for the students returning in the fall, including tailgate-themed days, Halloween and the always-popular holiday meals.
Wyatt said the staff at the East Campus Dining Center aim for quality food and happy diners.
“I love to see the smiles on students’ faces. We follow the recipes, but we put a lot of love into the food, and that’s the secret ingredient, right?” she said.
The special summer offerings conclude July 27 and 28 with Carolina BBQ and Hatch Chile BBQ, respectively. The July 28 menu will also feature the Loeffel Meat Lab’s award-winning jalapeño popper bratwurst. The menus are available for lunch, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.