New executive chef changes cafeteria quality


Executive chef of the dining hall Jay Bendele stirs food before the 6pm rush. March 8. Photo by Bridget Reilly

Jay Bendele started as the executive chef for Mesquite Dining Hall about two weeks ago. Three cafeteria employees and 15 students said they are beginning to notice improvements in the quality of food as well as in the quality of relationships among cafeteria employees.

Bendele, who has been in the food business for 25 years and campus food service for 14 years, shared his secret to cooking good food.

“It’s love. Caring, compassion, actually having pride in what you are doing. If you go in it half-hearted, you’re going to get a half-hearted product,” Bendele said.

Bendele also said the food also depends on his employees.

“Without other people we don’t have a team. I feel that they [cooks, dishwashers and other employees]  are more important than I am. I’m just the glue,” Bendele said.

Ronald Esslinger, undecided freshman and dishwasher at the cafeteria, said he noticed a difference in the interaction between employees and the new executive chef.

“I’ve actually met the guy. He’s much more personable,” Esslinger said.

Joseph Cortez, employee at the cafeteria, said Bendele has improved the relationship among employees.

“So far my experience with him has been pleasurable. He’s been nice to me. He’s noticed how much I’ve done,” Cortez said.

Bendele, who went to culinary school in Austin, Texas, said his favorite part of his new job is getting to know his employees and making improvements.

“Meeting the new people, meeting new students, and looking at all of the options that we can change and make better,” Bendele said. “We have lots of things to improve on. We have some very good cooks here. They just need a little guidance. Mainly the cooking that you get out front is not by me. It’s from our skilled and talented cooks. They just need someone to make sure that they have the right products and the right guidance to get it done correctly.”

Jose Marquez, a cook at the dining hall, said Bendele has great communication with his employees.

“He keeps in contact with all of his employees. He makes sure that everyone is on a first name basis and that everyone is doing their job,” Cortez said.

Bendele said his unique cooking experience has helped him teach the cooks.

“I even worked for MTV. It was called Rock N’ Jocks. It was the first Rock N’ Jocks that MTV ever did, and I got the chance to cook for Tony Hawk and Dave Mira, and also all the bands. It was really cool,” Bendele said.

Bendele said he even cooked for celebrities including Sandra Bullock and Rosanna Arquette.

“I’ve also worked in country clubs and Ma and Pa’s, Fine dining hotels, and the movie Hope Floats with Sandra Bullock. I cooked for all of that,” Bendele said.

Bendele confessed that he didn’t always want to be a chef.

“I guess I should’ve been an engineer. Both my mom and dad’s side are all engineers- structural, civil and electrical engineers, and I’m a chef,” Bendele said.

Bendele said he couldn’t follow in his parents’ foot steps because of his passion and skill for cooking.

“I’m passionate for food. I was able to do it very well with ease. I’ve always had the knife skills. It just kind of fell in my lap,” Bendele said.

Bendele said he looks forward to improving the cafeteria experience.

Bendele said,“It will just continue to get better and better. That’s our goal. We’ve gotta fix certain things, but we’ll get there.”


Have you noticed a change in the quality of the cafeteria food recently?

Kayla Parnell, nursing freshman | “It seems to be a little better recently. I used to not come because I didn’t like it, but I’m coming more often now. The vegetables seem better. They are more fresh and better made. I also think they’re trying to have more options.”

Samuel Koone, environmental science freshman | “It seems like it’s getting better. They put food out more often. Burgers for sure are better. It just seems like they’re more on top of things.”

Ronald Esslinger, undecided freshman | “It tastes better. The cooks put in more effort lately. It’s also neater in the way that it’s presented.”

Nathan Conard, English junior | “It’s improving, not like drastically but I generally like the food they offer here. There is more options than there were last semester.”

Steven Singleton, vocal performance junior | “The only time I come is in the mornings, so I would say breakfast is really improving.”

Micayla Kelsey, music education freshman | “Since last semester, it has gotten better. Last semester it didn’t have much flavor, and now there’s more flavor in things.”

Alyssa Fennell, criminal justice junior | “Yes it has improved. They have different types of food. They don’t make the same kind of food every day. They change it up.”

Jeffrey Palomarez, exercise physiology senior | “It depends on the day and if it’s the beginning or the end of the week. I think they buy it from local places. That’s why the food is not bad here. Sometimes they make some pretty good meals. It depends on the meal. If it’s cooked with good ingredients, it usually turns out pretty nice. Sometimes it’s 10 out of 10.”

Oscar Castillo, engineering freshman | “Only on the vegetables and the meats. They’ve been better. The dessert has also been better so far.”

Tariq Pratt, mechanical engineering sophomore | “There’s somewhat of a difference. They’ve gotten a bit better with pizza and their variety.”

Noah Wilson, graphic design freshman | “Yeah I would say it has gotten better. I liked the oscars night that they held last week.”

Will Schnitker, mechanical engineering freshman | “No not really. It’s kind of always been pretty good. Sometimes it’s really good.”

Alberto Diaz, business sophomore | “It’s quite better. You have basic food like chicken and rice, and the chicken is without sauce, which I like.”

Maverick Moxey, physical therapy freshman | “I would say the food quality has improved slightly.”

Skyler Thomas, radiology freshman | “I like the food here. Breakfast is the highlight of my day.”