Auburn, Ala.--When Auburn students and student-athletes get back to campus for the 2014 fall semester they will have a new and exciting food option on campus with the opening of the Auburn Wellness Kitchen just across from the new South Donahue Residence Hall.
Located adjacent to the parking deck at the Auburn Athletic Complex, the $6.6 million wellness kitchen will be able to seat up to 350 people at one time while also serving a wide variety of foods designed to help performance on and off the playing fields.
Auburn Athletic Director Jay Jacobs said he is pleased with the facility and the quality of food that will be available. He noted that he wanted to create the atmosphere of the former Sewell Hall dining facility, which fed AU athletes for generations.
"We certainly out-did ourselves on that," Jacobs said. "As much as I enjoyed the affection of Sewell Hall this sort of leaves it in the dust. As a matter of fact Sewell Hall is in the dust. The residence hall over there has been a game-changer for us."
Jacobs added, "It will be open to anybody who wants to walk in the door and pay. It is the only place that is all you care to eat so were are excited about it."
In the works for much of the last four years, the wellness kitchen will get a strong test run in the next few weeks with Auburn beginning football practices on Aug. 1. That means feeding the team and coaches three meals a day during preseason camp.
How to get ready for that is demanding task, but it’s something that the facility's head dietician, Scott Sehnert, said he is working on daily to make sure it fits exactly what Coach Gus Malzahn, Strength and Conditioning Coach Ryan Russell and the rest of Auburn’s coaches on campus want for their players daily.
“I just left with some of our administrators talking about fall camp and going over the menu with them for fall camp and what we may look to change,” Sehnert said. “I will get feedback from them because a lot of times players will talk to them a little bit before they talk to me about that stuff. Strength coaches always like to read up on sports nutrition. If they start hearing about some things that may help out we will look to implement those into the facilities as well.
“I will build menus that will help guys gain weight, I will build menus that will help guys with the recovery process from surgeries from wound healing, from ligament formation and things of that nature," he said. "My staff and I will be in here three meals a day every day to help people build those plates whether it is the gymnast, the cross country runner or the wide receiver.”
The wellness kitchen will function like a regular cafeteria for the most part with different stations where you can choose from a variety of different options. The menu will change from day-to-day, but each station will stick with a general type of food from chicken and steak at the grill to sandwiches available at the deli to pizza. Sehnert said while it sounds like normal food everything will be designed to be as healthy as possible with the goal of helping athletes stay in peak condition throughout the year.
“The general flow is when people come in, you kind of have a tray station right at the front,” Sehnert said. “They come to the grill and we'll do different things. We'll have a 'steak night,' we'll have a 'fish night.' We'll probably be having a 'sushi night,' but we'll have some staples up there. For years athletes have wanted to have grilled chicken tenders or grilled chicken breasts. It's just a staple that they can rely on so we'll have that available every night and we'll have some things that rotate at the grill.
“We have the seven different stations, five of them are sort of action stations where you can build your own from the pizza to the deli to the grill, the general action station, the home style, the frozen yogurt/smoothie station," he noted. "We wanted to have a lot of variety to really help athletes and general population want to come in here and eat. Things that won’t be offered: we do have a fryer in here; that’s not going to be turned on all the time. We do Sunday dinners, we have family dinners where coaches’ families and players come together and we’ll do some fried chicken or we’ll do some ribs on those days, but those are meant to be treats.
"They’re not meant to be everyday food so we’re not going to have fried food in here every day. We’ll have a soda machine that’ll be turned off at dinner. They’re treats, they should be treated like that. The frozen yogurt is something that will be available every day. We’ll have those sweet sort of foods and we’ll have some food that are nice, enjoyable treats but those bigger sort of times are going to be occasional, not every day.”
One of the most important areas of the kitchen will be in the back where Chef Patrick Smallen and his staff will be able to provide full gluten-free meals without the possibility of contamination. That’s very important for those with gluten allergies and Sehnert said it’s something they were very conscious of when building.
“We do have a kitchen in the back of the house,” Sehnert said. “Ninety percent of the food that people eat in here is going to be seen in front of you, and that's something I think that's important--that you know how things are being prepared. We have one small kitchen in back of the house and that's intentional because it's a place where gluten-free items will be prepared, soy-free, nut-free--it's basically our allergy-free kitchen and that's because we can't drop a gluten-free pizza dough in our pizza oven that has had a bunch of whole wheat pizza crust, because gluten particles can get all over the place. To be able to accommodate people with certain needs (is important).”
The wellness kitchen will be available for use, not only for students and student-athletes, but for the general public as well. Hours for breakfast are 7-10:30 a.m. with a cost of $9.80. Lunch hours are from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m at a cost of $10.89. Those hours will begin with the start of fall classes.