New executive chef makes changes, healthy options

Elizabeth Montiel-Alvarado, Campus Carrier staff writer

Shawn Lawrence hopes to improve the dining hall during his time at Berry. Elizabeth Montiel-Alvarado | Campus Carrier

Berry Dining has recently welcomed its new executive chef, Shawn Lawrence. With his guidance and experienced background, Lawrence as well as the rest of the dining staff will be making some changes to the dining halls: food, presentation and overall ambiance.

Lawrence was born and raised in North Carolina. He has been involved in the food industry for most of his life and has particularly worked with large populations of people in varying capacities. 

“I have been in the kitchen since I was 14 years old,” .” Lawrence said. “The first job that I ever had was at a steakhouse and I stuck with it.” 

After culinary school, he worked at different restaurants with different chefs and eventually decided to settle into higher education. 

“It’s my favorite atmosphere to be in, cooking for the masses and getting to see student faces when they have something that they really enjoy or taking something that they give us and saying ‘hey, I’d really like to see this,’ and then making that happen for them, is very satisfactory to me,” Lawrence said. 

Using his experience of cooking for large groups, coupled with a lifelong fascination with cooking, he is committed to meeting the needs of his students and providing any necessary change.

“I have been in higher ed for the last 11 years,” Lawrence said. “Every year you get students that have new ideas, tastes and things that they want to see. So, we take that information, internalize it and then put it back out to you guys so that we can make you guys happy.” 

Lawrence has since then been on campus since January 2023, but only recently transitioned into executive chef this summer. Once settled, he immediately began to update how the food was presented and organized.

 “The first thing we did was change the look of the food,” Lawrence said. “We put it in different vessels, different kinds of containers, so it’s not your typical old-school lunch lady cafeteria.”

He also began to adjust the menu and steer away from “basic” foods, as well as making sure the food is adequately made or cooked. 

“We’re not overcooking vegetables,” Lawrence said. “We’re trying to put up nice steamed, crisp vegetables, not, you know, soaked in oil or butter.”

Additionally, in the past semesters, some students have expressed concerns and requested a menu that accommodates allergies and dietary restrictions. Benefiting them, a new station will now be installed called the True Balance station, replacing the Viking Favorites station. 

“It’s gonna have starch, vegetables, protein and dessert to start with and it’s gonna avoid peanuts, tree nuts, gluten, sesame, shellfish, dairy and eggs,” Lawrence said. “So, it will be a nice place for students that have fears of allergen concerns. “

As this will be a new station, additional changes may be made as traffic and student responses are seen and monitored. Aside from this station, if some students feel they need additional guidance or dietary help, they can contact Marissa Castano, our registered dietician to try to create a solution. 

“If we have a student who is facing an allergen or a dietary restriction, we would like to get them in, meet with the chef, meet with some of our managers, our dietician, and walk them through some of the solutions we have for them,” Sam Cooper, general manager said.

Many of the changes being made are based on feedback received from students throughout the years. So, the dining team encourages communication and hopes students voice their thoughts to them. 

“If there is someone that needs assistance, it’s about communication,” Lawrence said. “If they let us know, we are very accessible. We’ll try our best to accommodate everybody.” 

The dining hall has also planned themed events to enhance the student experience in the past. The themes of some of these events included Earth Day and Thanksgiving, which included various decorations and a fitting menu. After reviewing feedback, the dining team noticed students enjoyed a party-type atmosphere with different stations connecting back to the theme. This year, they are encouraging more student involvement by looking to team up with different organizations.

 “One of the things we’re toying with, with the Student Government Association (SGA) this year is, can we get some student input on what an event looks like? Maybe they can vote for one of our premium events or something like that,” Cooper said.

Some of the ways students can get involved with these decisions informally, without having to speak to an official would be through the Berry dining Instagram. 

“We’ll get some polls out there, see what they want to do, get some interaction,” Lawrence said.  “I think Instagram is a good tool to use.” 

If students would like to give opinions or have some questions answered in a quick manner, they are free to speak with Lawrence or any dining official if seen in the dining hall. Additionally, on August 23, there will be a lunch with the chef event. 

“Students are invited to come and have a round table conversation with Shawn and give some of their feedback about what they are looking for in dining and we will also prepare them a meal,” Cooper said.

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