A unique dining experience that transported the Florida Tech community to the kitchens and bustling marketplaces of Oaxaca, Mexico, on the colorful Día de los Muertos holiday was recognized as one of the best special culinary events in the country by the National Association of College and University Food Services (NACUFS).
The event won NACUFS’ Loyal E. Horton Award in the Residential Dining – Special Event category. Named after a NACUFS founder, past president and highly regarded innovator, these awards celebrate members’ innovative ideas and program implementation.
“It’s an honor to be recognized nationally by NACUFS for the work we do for our students here at Florida Tech,” said Evan Olsen, director of Campus Dining. “It really shows that our Campus Dining program can compete with the best universities across the country.”
The Oaxaca dinner was a feast for all of the senses.
As they entered, guests walked pass a colorful ofrenda, an altar meant to welcome back the souls of the deceased on this special day. Initially featuring movie characters, the ofrenda was changed to include images of Florida Tech leaders who have passed away after a student from Mexico reached out to Campus Dining with that suggestion.
In the dining area, bright marigolds (considered the flower of the dead) and colorful, floral skulls called calaveras were everywhere, and dining staff and some students donned traditional garb. The smell of incense, known as copal, mingled with food aromas.
Even the school’s entry to NACUFS was artistic. A 32-page book with details on the event, recipes and more, the entry featured a wooden book cover crafted by Campus Dining Manager Michelle Novak, complete with a burned-in logo on the cover.
The menu featured aguachile, pozole rojo, mole negro oaxaqueno, tamales and more.
“In honoring recipients of the NACUFS 2023 Loyal E. Horton Dining Awards…we acknowledge the tireless efforts and unwavering dedication of the exceptional individuals and teams who elevate the standard of campus dining across North America,” said NACUFS CEO Robert Nelson. “Their innovative approaches and unparalleled passion for culinary excellence demonstrate the unequivocal value of campus dining, and the community, health and well-being it fosters among college students. We proudly congratulate our winners on their outstanding achievements.”
The winning dinner was the second in last year’s Global Kitchen Series. Born out of a 2016 university initiative to celebrate its international diversity, the Global Kitchen Series was created by Olsen and Chef Jon Skoviera to continue to put focus on students’ desire to enjoy international cuisine and culture. Novak has been integral in the planning and execution of each dinner’s theme, decorations and history. Previous events have centered on Chandi Chowk market in Delhi, India; Sau Paulo, Brazil; and Nishiki Market in Kyoto, Japan.
The 2024-25 iteration of the Global Kitchen Series will feature meals associated with Thailand, Scandinavia, Cities of Love (for Valentine’s Day) and the Muslim holiday Eid al-Fitr.