The new taste of Portland State

Aramark’s management team has arrived and is now undertaking the task of cooking for the students, staff and faculty who regularly eat on campus.

Aramark’s management team has arrived and is now undertaking the task of cooking for the students, staff and faculty who regularly eat on campus. Moving into a new office space in the Smith Student Union, Patrick Durgan, executive chef for Aramark, and Steve Wadsworth, Aramark’s food service director, expressed excitement to be here at Portland State and said they are looking forward to meeting students, faculty and staff alike.

Aramark took over as PSU’s new food service provider July 1. PSU terminated their contract with previous food service provider Sodexho in March, two years into their seven-year contract. The Vanguard recently had a chance to sit down with Durgan and Wadsworth to find out how Aramark hopes to change the face of food at PSU.

Patrick Durgan, Executive Chef for Aramark at Portland State University

Q: Tell me about your professional background.

PD: I am a graduate of Western Culinary Institute here in Portland. I have spent some time out at Sunriver and out at the convention center here in town for Aramark for five years. I’ve been involved in food service and catering just about my whole life.

Q: Are you from Portland originally?

PD: I was born in Portland, but grew up near Seattle. I liked to travel and wanted to get onto a career where I could travel and do something I enjoyed as well.

Q: How has traveling affected your approach to food?

PD: When you travel, you get a true sense of other cultures. Other countries do things on a much smaller scale, when it comes to food. I think in this town, the idea of what people think food should be is starting to change along those lines. This town is becoming focused on organics and local and sustainability… People are putting more value in what they eat and how it relates to the rest of their lives. People are willing to pay a little more, and people are putting a lot of effort into getting that type of food started.

Q: How does that affect the prices that students are paying?

PD: It is a huge challenge, across the country. It starts with consumers demanding sustainable, local products, and the more demand, the more farmers will produce. If people don’t demand it, prices won’t change. Prices for local products have gone down every year since I’ve been in Portland, but it is not something that is going to change overnight.

Q: Do you think you will have any direct relationships with farmers?

PD: There is a food safety issue there that Aramark is concerned about. Aramark strives to do whatever we can to accommodate the client, which is Portland State, and we’re still trying to get an idea of what the client is really looking for. Can we pull off a relationship with a certain local farm? Possibly. Maybe there is a distributor who combines items from a couple of different local farms.

Q: When you think about what PSU students want in food on campus, what are the three things on their minds?

PD: Thinking back to when I was a student: price, convenience and somewhat of a healthy type of food. Those three things don’t always go together. But to find a middle ground, where people are maybe willing to pay a little bit more but get more of what they want…that’s where we listen to what students want, and those are the things that we try to offer.

Q: How, specifically, do you plan to get that feedback?

PD: I will be out, observing, during lunch hour, seeing how the operation is run, that is what my job will be–looking for student reactions to what we’re doing.

Steve Wadsworth, Aramark food service director at Portland State University

Q: Tell me about your professional background.

SW: I’ve been with Aramark on and off for 17 years now, in Alaska and Oregon. I came to PSU for two and a half years before I was transferred back to Alaska when Sodexho took over the PSU account.

Q: How do you view Portland? What is your relationship with this city?

SW: Because of the people from the university that I work with everyday, and the kinds of relationships I have with them, I feel like we have a lot of ideas and we can act on them quickly. In a lot of working environments, things move like a rusty wheel. Here, when someone has an idea, it is discussed and we move forward on it. There is a lot of communication here and people are really creating something special. PSU is really a unique environment, and it is really the people who make it so.

Q: How about the students? What makes them unique?

SW: Portland State is truly a diverse campus. There are a lot of different demographics on this campus. And they all have a vision, and are very open about communicating that. And that is one of the things that I find very exciting. During my last tenure here, I developed many strong relationships and deep friendships on campus. It is going to be wonderful to re-establish those connections and build new ones.

Q: What do you think PSU students want to be eating?

SW: They want choices, first of all. They want healthy food, organic and sustainable, and they want us to operate our business in an eco-friendly manner. PSU is truly a leader in sustainability, and we want to partner with them to help them achieve that vision.

Q: What’s your personal approach to food?

SW: I want it to be healthy, I want it to taste good, and I want it to be visually appealing. I want the venue to be well lit, immaculately clean at all times, and I want the items to be reasonably priced. We are on a college campus, and we need to be sensitive to the fact that university students are going to school full time and some of them are working full time to put themselves through school.

Q: Do you have specific plans for staying in touch with student’s wants and needs?

SW: I am accessible, and it is very important that our leadership is too. I get the most value when a student, if they have an idea or suggestion–good or bad–comes to me directly. Then I can really get to the core of the problem or idea. Having that one-on-one is really important. We have a comment section on our website, but I think something is really lost through that kind of interaction.

Q: So, are you inviting students to come visit you in your office?

SW: Yes, that is a good way to do it.