In December of 2015, Union welcomed Jeff Kurto onto campus as the new Dining Services Director. In regards to his new position at Union, Kurto said, “I am glad to be working for the Union community and developing Union College Dining Services into a top-rated program.”
Kurto has major plans for Union Dining. He initially aims to focus on three specific areas, with more to come later.
His first area of focus is personalization. This means more small batches of food, more cooked-to-order food and more self-served, simple, fresh dishes and ingredients.
Kurto also plans to host cooking classes to provide a base for the less cooking experienced students or those looking to enhance their cooking skills.
His second area of focus is health consciousness. This means adding a fruit and Greek yogurt bar at Dutch; non-homogenized local chocolate milk to West; grilled chicken and other lean proteins to delis and salad bars; and even a potential smoothie concept for Rathskeller.
His third area of focus is new flavors. This means adding more whole, recognizable ingredients to offerings from Union Dining — such as halved kiwi, pomegranate, mango and avocado. It also means using raw, natural ingredients low in fat and high in protein; serving more composed salads with international-style ingredients like snow pea salads or marinated bok choy; and introducing new fusion sauces and ingredients, such as truffle fries with sriracha mayo ketchup, among other things.
Kyrto will also focus on enhancing Union Dining options with items like contemporary, house-made salad dressings. And Kurto plans to schedule some guests from the Capital District to bring in “off-campus flavors.”
The new Dining Services director plans to revamp all dining venues on campus, but to prioritize West Dining Hall and Dutch Hollow. He’s also working on some new concepts for both Garnet Commons and College Park Hall.
Kurto has significant previous experience in the food industry. He was raised in the restaurant industry, working his way up to chef and general manager positions at local, family-owned restaurants that focused on using fresh, seasonal ingredients. Through these initial experiences, he says he “learned the skill and value of using fresh, local, high-end, high-quality ingredients.”
In 2002, Kurto began his campus dining career at RPI, acting as the catering manager from 2003 to 2007, and then serving as the director of operations from 2007 to 2012.
In regards to his experiences at RPI, Kurto stated, “I was instrumental in transforming the dining experience and increasing customer service.”
In 2012, Kurto left RPI, taking over the dining program at Castleton University, in Vermont. There, he grew the program to incorporate more cooked-to-order foods, while also integrating local food into the dining program.
Kurto stated that student engagement was his main focus at Castleton, at which he feels he was successful, as he says satisfaction in the dining program increased dramatically during his time there.
In 2014, Kurto began working at Siena, once again working with students in order to get a better grasp of what they defined as great dining services. He met weekly with students, involving them heavily in the decision-making process.
In addition to his efforts towards quality and freshness, Kurto is also launching a new program on campus entitled “Union Dining, Beyond the Plate.” Regarding this, Kurto stated, “This is where we plan to tie in the core values of wellness, sustainability, community, development and culture into what we do in Dining Services. Our goal is to balance everything we do into how it enhances these core values and adds to the Union experience.”
Furthermore, Kurto emphasized how important student engagement is to him. His ultimate goal is to shape Dining Services for the community, by the community.
He mentioned various ways for students to get involved and have a say in dining services at Union, including attending Student Dining Services Committee meetings, filling out comment cards or even reaching out to Kurto directly via his Twitter or his Instagram, both with the handle @uniondiningjeff.
He concluded, “I am here for you, and as a team, we are here to serve you!”