Stanford students dine at the Chef’s Table

Chef's Table
Stanford students Brandon Hoang, Michael Alisky and Patrick Ryan enjoy a Japanese-style meal at a recent Chef’s Table dinner at Florence Moore dining hall. (Image credit: Kim Ratcliff)

The 12 students had barely taken their seats and separated their wooden chopsticks when the first course arrived family-style – blistered shishito peppers, chili-glazed brussels sprouts and pillowy rectangles of tamagoyaki, which is a Japanese-style omelet.

“Good evening and welcome,” said Daniel Donguines, executive chef of Florence Moore (FloMo) dining hall, smiling and standing at the head of the Chef’s Table on a recent Thursday evening. “Does anyone have food allergies or dietary preferences?”

As it turned out, there were three vegans and one vegetarian student, so Donguines adjusted the menu as needed.

As other students walked through the servery during the busy dinner hour, they eyed the table, its occupants and their food. “What’s going on?” one passing student asked enviously.

“We’re Chef’s Table-ing,” said Dustin Smith, ’23.

“What exactly is that and how can I do it, too?” the curious student inquired.

Good question. Residential & Dining Enterprises Stanford Dining (R&DE SD) hosts a program called the Chef’s Table for groups of up to 12 students, resident fellows or faculty to enjoy a sumptuous, restaurant-style meal at each of the R&DE campus dining halls. To participate, students can use one meal swipe without incurring an additional cost – just one of many benefits that the R&DE meal plan offers to students.

According to Eric Montell, executive director of R&DE Stanford Dining, the Chef’s Table is a great way for a small group of students to engage with each other, RFs and faculty while experiencing restaurant quality meals.

“Key to the program is the community-building that is developed between the chefs, who create and serve an exciting and delicious three-course meal, and students who are able to have an exceptional culinary experience,” Montell said. “Our goal is also for students to get to know our talented team of award-winning chefs better through these and many other community-building events.”

Erica Holland-Toll is the executive chef of Branner Dining Commons and the Stanford Flavor Lab. She said that students interested in an upscale restaurant experience will enjoy the work of R&DE’s professional chefs.

“Students are treated to an exceptional culinary experience and we really enjoy providing this service to students,” she said. “We can be really creative as many of the chefs previously worked in some of the top Bay Area restaurants.”

For the recent FloMo Chef’s Table, Parth Garg, ’23, gathered 11 of his fellow frosh to attend. Donguines and his culinary team cooked an inspired seven-course, Japanese dinner for the students. Following the first course, the diners were treated to steaming bowls of udon – chewy, hand-rolled noodles swimming in a comforting vegan broth made from mushrooms, miso and soy.

Meanwhile, back in the kitchen, Donguines prepared the next course. It included tempura-battered, sustainably caught, whole shrimp dunked into baskets of bubbling oil and fried until they were golden brown, then glazed with roasted ginger garlic teriyaki. Tempura fried vegetables were also served to the table.

“This is incredible!” one student said.

Carla Nicolini, ’23, helped herself to the veggies, including green beans, eggplant spears and half-moons of orange kabocha squash, which came from the O’Donohue Family Stanford Educational Farm. She also couldn’t resist the show-stopping spikey clusters of tempura enoki mushrooms.

Nicolini appreciated the selection of vegan options and the way Donguines accommodated her dietary needs by lightly frying the vegetables in oil that was untouched by the seafood.

The FloMo culinary team members knew their hard work had paid off as they watched students relish the meal, enjoy the company of friends and get to know the Stanford Dining team better. “The Chef’s Table is really a space where we know students will relax, enjoy, take a break from their studies and go back invigorated,” Donginues said.

Of course, he could not send the students away without a tempting dessert. In keeping with the Japanese theme, Donginues garnished mango sorbet with shiso leaves and sprinkled it with chocolate gelato with matcha powder to give the students a boost of flavor.

Space at Chef’s Table dinners is limited and reservations are required. Interested students can reserve a spot by contacting the general manager of their preferred dining hall.