The Mind of a Chef: AVI serves more than vending machine food at CCAC


Most students are familiar with the term food service. However, most are not familiar with who serves their food.

For many years educational institutions have outsourced their food service to catering companies such as Automatic Vendors Incorporated, a vending company located in Warren, Oh. AVI provides the Community College of Allegheny County’s Allegheny Campus on the Northside with vending machines as well as cafeteria service.

Food service can be a massive undertaking for gatherings of a few, much less hundreds or thousands. It requires oversight and regulation of safety and sanitation. This is why most educational institutions have turned to companies such as AVI to manage their food service for them.

In the early part of the 19th century, there were no school cafeterias. Boarding schools served formal meals, urban schools sent their children home for lunch and rural students went home if they lived close enough to make the trip.

In the early 20th century, social scientists and nutrition experts turned their attention to students. Their findings prompted the government to adopt a hot lunch program.

In 1914, a school lunch in Philadelphia would have cost 5 cents for the main meal, 2 cents for a drink and 1 cent for ice cream. Today school cafeterias reflect federal nutritional guidelines, regional culinary influence and local district practices.

The price of a typical lunch at CCAC will set you back about $6.95, a long way from 5 cents, but a great deal by today’s standard.

CCAC Executive Chef Jim Gardner brings to the table culinary skill that he refined working for properties such as Bravo and Atria’s.

As a CCAC student, I can attest to the level of quality, variety and food service that Chef Jim provides to keep his culturally diverse student body happy and well nourished. One healthy dish Jim serves is Quinoa, one of the only non modified, pure and natural grains left in the world. Quinoa is also high in protein and fiber.  

Other great selections are a daily, rotating selection of Panini, fresh salads, fresh soup and chili, house cut fries, broiled fish and an extensive made-to-order menu.

As a chef, I prefer cooking tools and equipment designed with one function and purpose in mind, because multi-functional tools tend to perform poorly. It’s good that educational institutions are sticking with what they do best — teach — and are leaving the cafeteria to the experts.

Steven Hughes graduated from Le Cordon Bleu Pittsburgh in 1994, and has worked with many types of cuisines in chef positions across the country. He is currently the culinary director for the "Mind of a Chef" cooking school at In the Kitchen, located in the Strip District.

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