USC Village dining hall emphasizes health, sustainability

Complete with stained glass windows, a collegiate gothic ceiling and cardinal and gold banners showcasing the Five Traits of a Trojan, the USC Village dining hall has been frequently compared to Hogwarts. However, Chef Nathan Martinez is trying to set it apart as an icon that stands on its own.

“We’d rather call it a cathedral for culinary masterpieces,” he said.

Located on the ground floor of the Thomas and Dorothy Leavey Foundation Honors Hall, the new dining hall will align with the principles of USC’s Food Philosophy and the Menus of Change University Research Collaborative, which focuses on seasonal foods and plant-based dining, smaller portions of red meat and the reduction of salt and sugar. It will also have an emphasis on healthy foods, sustainable practices and a variety of food options.

“There’s different things in every station to give it that complete variety — to give it that feel that you’re getting some of the food from Parkside [Restaurant], some of the food from EVK, some of the food from old [Café] 84, and then some of the newer developments in the USC Village,” Martinez said. “Most of the stuff we try to do is not repetitive.”

The dining hall features a 42-item salad bar, a deli station where students can create their own sandwiches on artisan bread, and an Asian cuisine station with hot pot, gyoza, dim sum and moo shu wraps. For dessert, students can choose from sweet and savory crepes, gelato, cobbler, pastries and local, sustainable and organic hand fruits. However, the dining hall’s flagship feature is its plant-based station, according to Martinez.

“Everything there is vegan, down to the breads and the offerings that we give,” he said. “My biggest thing on it is that it’s actually made for everybody to enjoy. I try to create flavors and profiles that anybody would want to eat on a regular basis, and not realize they’re eating plant-based at the same time.”

Aside from healthy and sustainable food, the new dining hall aims to have a restaurant-like atmosphere that goes beyond collegiate dining, according to associate director for residential dining Erik Russell. The 8,000 square-foot space seats up to 450, and is prepared to serve 3,000 meals a day.

“We’re really working on upgrading the food experience and dining experience as a whole,” he said. “It’s completely different than anything we’ve done … It’s a big step forward for us.”

One of Martinez’s main focuses is to provide USC students with the highest quality of food possible.

“I don’t want to have subpar anything, because you guys deserve it,” he said. “You guys work just as hard as we do to get through classes. You guys deserve some of the best food out there.”

Katie Chin | Daily Trojan