A food lover who has worked with chefs such as Wolfgang Puck and Lee Heftner, Eric Ernest joined USC Hospitality as the new executive chef who will be responsible for overseeing the progress of the department’s 39 venues.
“I love food. There isn’t a food I don’t love,” Ernest said.
But maybe more importantly for students is Ernest’s next statement.
“There isn’t a food I can’t make great,” he said.
Ernest, who has traveled to more than 25 countries including Budapest, Morocco, Honduras and Belize, said his trips have helped him to discover food that he is truly passionate about,
“I’ve always had an affinity for multicultural food with high-quality produce that is time sensitive, temperature sensitive and technique driven,” Ernest said.
Ernest, who has more than 10 years of experience in the field of managing large, multi-unit dining experiences, served as the executive chef of the hospitality conglomerate SBE.
He described his method of dealing with USC’s extensive dining operation as blocking and tackling. He said he plans to identify all of the problems and group them into smaller projects.
“You can’t boil the ocean,” said Ernest, who also said he plans to focus on simple issues such as requiring all staff to be present in uniform and emphasizing impeccable sanitation.
Having been officially named to the position in mid-October, Ernest has had four weeks to assess the wants and needs of the USC student body. He said he’s been able to get an idea of what students want with the meals.
“USC students want a blend of traditional, homey comfort food and artisanal products, and it has to be blended in a way to give them variety and something different everyday,” Ernest said.
Ernest said he already envisions improvements to the dining experience on campus, including upgrading cooking techniques, training staff, buying better produce and even introducing a grab-and-go line of organic snacks.
“I see students eating candy bars and think, ‘Why can’t we make that candy bar with quality products and in a smaller portion?’ It would fit our students’ budgets and prevent them from eating a whole candy bar,” Ernest said.
Regarding the concern of organic food being significantly more expensive, Ernest said he plans to counter the issue by buying in bulk and cutting down portion size.
Kris Klinger, director of USC Hospitality, said he looks forward to seeing what Ernest brings to the table.
“We at USC Hospitality are looking to redefine what higher campus and residential dining consists of,” Klinger said. “Chef Ernest’s experience, knowledge and expertise will help us bring it to the next level.”