Willamette’s Small Plates Pop-Up Combines Creativity with Sustainability

Students eating lunch at Willamette University in Salem, OR, have no shortage of options: soups, sandwiches, salads, and tacos are all ubiquitous (and delicious!) midday fare.

Student Server Dylan Doerflinger manning the small plates station.

But they can also choose from some pretty elevated offerings. How about a perfectly deep-fried sous vide egg floated atop a butternut squash and apple puree, finished with a drizzle of hazelnut oil? Or maybe a fritter made from sustainably caught shrimp and conch, with celery salad and a pineapple-chili jam?

Willamette’s small plates station, which operates as a pop-up of sorts every Thursday afternoon, is about as far from stereotypical cafeteria fare as you can get. Executive Chef André Uribe encourages his team to use the station as an opportunity to experiment and be creative. The menus tend to be planned at the last minute, and a different chef will often take charge of the small plates station from week to week, so it becomes a unique opportunity to play and let their individual cooking style shine.

Not only is the weekly special menu a great showcase for chefs’ culinary chops, it is also a way to combat food waste. The team often ends up using bits and pieces of particularly unusual or special leftovers from catering — a piece of rare tenderloin, say, or even escargot — that aren’t suited to large-scale upcycling.

Willamette’s small-plates station is a wonderful combination of culinary excellence and sustainable practices, exactly what Bon Appétit is all about — with or without a sous vide egg on top.