Catlett’s Flavors Abroad offers new culinary experience to everyday dining

Students wanted more diversity in food options, and Catlett’s Flavors Abroad offers the opportunity to try new cuisine and learn about different cultures around the world.


Kinsey Phipps, News Reporter

Residence-hall living brings daily dining-hall options for students. They feast on all the classics — pizza, cereal, burgers, and salad bar. This all-encompassing buffet is served daily, but many students say that after a while, the options lose their glory. Catlett’s Flavors Abroad seeks to combine variety and education to spice up the dining-hall experience.

When Catlett opened its doors in 2017, students told University Housing & Dining they wanted more diverse foods, Catlett operations manager Kelli Haught said. Once University Dining introduced the idea for Flavors Abroad, officials began to search for a way to make it happen in Catlett.

Catlett chef David Von Holten heard about the idea for Flavors Abroad, saw the equipment he was working with, and began researching recipes.

One thing Von Holten and his team strive for, he said, is an on-trend menu. He researches food trends not only in other university dining programs but also in top restaurants around the country. He tries to blend trends in the two establishments, he said.

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“I really like to challenge our staff. You have a variety of cooking techniques by featuring international foods,” Von Holten said. “It’s new to everybody as far as techniques and flavors go.”

Von Holten tries to be as authentic as possible when designing menus, he said. He researches popular trends, looks into the culture of the dish, develops recipes, and works with the team to make a one-serving meal multiply to serve 600 students.

For the Lunar New Year menu, Von Holten and his team sat down with Chinese students and did a taste test, asking the students how similar the dishes were to their native foods.

“You have a department, staff, and a chef that’s committed to providing diverse food options,” Haught said. “That commitment is there for that extra work.”

With new recipes being introduced each semester, staff members steadily work to provide new options from different cultures, Haught said. New recipes go through trial and error, she said.

“We are starting these new concepts like street tacos, and we are using our knowledge to put our best foot forward,” Haught said. “You don’t know how popular things are going to be; it’s always a bit of a guessing game.”

Another aspect to the UI’s dining experience is the focus on made-to-order items. Build-your-own burgers, pizzas, paninis, and Mexican grill stations are options featured daily at campus marketplaces. Catlett incorporated this into Flavors Abroad, as well, Von Holten said, with crêpes, tacos, dumplings, and noodles.

“I really do think it’s an advantage to see different foods from different places that you usually wouldn’t get to see,” said UI student Amanda Cvitko, a native of Brazil. “I really like that the UI has been consistently increasing outreach to the international population.”

In the end, the payoff is allowing students to step out of their culinary comfort zone and try something new, Von Holten said. Flavors Abroad will continue to incorporate new cultures and new tastes.