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Hoping to Pass the Taste Test : Cal Poly Students Sample Food That May Become Cafeteria Fare

February 19, 1989|ANNETTE KONDO | Kondo is a free-lance writer in San Gabriel.

It was thumbs up for pepperoni and cheese egg rolls, thumbs down for chicken tenders.

On the Brian Bickhart scale of 1 to 5, the egg rolls clearly deserved the top ranking.

And the bite-size pieces of fried chicken called tenders? "They tasted gross," said the young gourmand with a grimace.

Bickhart, 18, was one of hundreds of Cal Poly Pomona students who served as food critics Wednesday at the Los Olivos Food Fair. It was an opportunity for students to try new foods and to help choose what will be on future menus at the school cafeteria.

For the third year in a row, food suppliers were invited to set up booths at Los Olivos, the central dining room for 1,200 resident students.

Items Will Be Added

The students sampled and rated the various products. Their surveys will be reviewed by the college's food services department, and some items will be added to the regular menu.

Previous student favorites added to cafeteria fare include knishes, egg rolls and praline ice cream. Also picked have been items for the health-conscious such as bulgur wheat and sugar peas.

On Wednesday, Los Olivos was filled with the aroma of chili mingled with a hint of stuffed shrimp and pizza. It was lunchtime gridlock as hungry students piled plates with food from the 30 vendors.

Standing near a display of fruit pies and brownies, Food Services Director George Way said he got the idea for the food fair after reading about an East Coast college that held one. Among the 19 campuses in the California State University system, he said, Cal Poly Pomona is the only one that sponsors such an event.

For Bickhart, an accounting major, the fair was an opportunity to help change the "cycle of food" he eats in the cafeteria.

"A lot of times, if (normal cafeteria meals) look bad, we just go for cereal. That's neutral," he said.

Devours 3 Platefuls

"Today is like Thanksgiving," said Mark Lipin, 20. He had devoured three plates of food, with no signs of slowing down, and gave high marks to the chimichangas and chili.

Some students carried 2-foot loaves of French bread under their arms. Others politely asked for strawberries and were given an entire pint container.

Most of the students interviewed preferred spicy ethnic foods, fresh fruit and pastries. Over the years, Way said, he has seen an increase in requests for fresh seafood and vegetarian and ethnic entrees as students have grown more nutritionally conscious.

Student appetites are ferocious, observed Dennis Livingstone of Rudy's Farm, a food manufacturer. His booth served 360 sausage-and-biscuit sandwiches, many of them second helpings.

"I went to college here, but they never had anything like this," said Jane De Bie, a representative from Atlas Horn. She served 600 fruit-juice spritzer samples and dozens of muffins and bagels.

Crowds of students lined up at the Bentley's Produce display, where wooden crates brimmed with flowers, fruits and vegetables. The chocolate-covered strawberries went quickly, Bill Bentley said as he opened another crate of grapes.

Starving students are no surprise to Way. "For one lunch, we'll use 1,600 hamburgers and 130 pounds of fries," he said. The dining hall serves an average of 3,000 meals a day. In a year, he said, students consume 17,000 gallons of milk, 12,500 hot dogs and 35,000 dozen eggs.

Way, a food industry veteran for 30 years, said he always gets requests for lobster tails and filet mignon, but those items would break his budget. Students get three all-you-can-eat meals for about $7.40 per day, he said.

"We're taking some pastries back to our room," said Sherrie Chung, 18, stuffing her book bag with some extra muffins, pastries and a juice spritzer.

Chung's roommate, Julie Deal, 18, balanced two paper plates covered with cheesecake slices and muffins in one hand. In her other hand was a half-eaten ice cream sample. "Thank goodness we have a big refrigerator," she said.

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