You walk into the Segundo Dining Commons and grab a bite to eat before your next class. But have you ever stopped to consider who the chef behind your food is?
In any kitchen, there are different levels of workers. Here at UC Davis, the head chef is responsible for planning the most vital ingredients.
This entails keeping track of the main proteins – which make up a good portion of food costs, and bread orders – which now require more careful planning as a result of the closing of the on-campus bakery. This means that any and all plate costs are in the hands of the head chef.
Head chef Cesar Cienfuegos has been working in UC Davis dining for 10 years. He started working in the Segundo DC as a cook, spent some time in the Cuarto and Tercero Dining Commons, then returned to the Segundo DC as the head chef beginning September 2015.
“I feel like I’m in a good place with a good routine where my ideas are still fresh and my passion is still there,” Cienfuegos says.
For a head chef, organization is everything.
“Just as a good manager can change your life, a bad manager can do the same,” Cienfuegos explains.
One of the biggest challenges Chef Cesar faces on the job is keeping accountability – to the dish, recipe, cooks, sous chefs, and self. This is especially important for Segundo since it is the central DC that gives the most lasting impression on diners.
Chef Cesar likes to try experiment with more adventurous foods, especially those of different cultures.
His favorite cooking technique is sous vide. His favorite ingredients are fresh herbs as they provide best contrast to his dishes and really tie the dish together. His favorite dish is mole, a Mexican dish that combines the heat from chili pepper, rich sweetness from chocolate, and burst of umami from meat.
Campus-wide chef specials have been inspired by Chef Cesar’s inspirations. Beef tongue ramen, bao buns, pork belly buns, and Korean short-ribs are just a few recipes. In the works are other technology-influenced dishes such as the molecular gastronomy-themed meal, introduced to campus on April 6th.
Chef Cesar likes to get students to branch out and step out of their comfort zones. Rather than providing the average dining experience, he wants people to leave the dining commons saying that they tried a new type of cuisine.