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September 10, 2010

Roux-making stirs up a new semester at ULM

It's just days before the start of another school year and Elizabeth Grayson, an Aramark employee, is surrounded by the smells of a kitchen that has come to life inside ULM's Schulze Cafeteria.

Grayson patiently stirs a large container of roux, a mixture of flour and fat used for sauce in many Creole and Cajun dishes. Creating the perfect roux is an art form that requires time, patience and just the right touch; it is a throwback to the days when meals were made entirely from scratch, well before pre-packaged, store-bought goods reduced the need for careful mealtime planning.

Grayson believes she'll end up with about 20 gallons of the Louisiana staple that will help feed the thousands of students likely to circulate through the cafeteria by semester's end. As she maneuvers the industrial-sized spoon through the lightly browned sauce, it begins to thicken, and Grayson clearly prides herself on her work.

"I don't like the pre-made stuff," said the 32-year ULM veteran, with a smile. Grayson's roux-making is just one indicator that the University of Louisiana at Monroe campus is about to shake-off its summer doldrums as faculty, staff and students return to usher in another academic year.

In the Student Union Building, Aramark employees prepared for the new semester in a vastly different way – by learning how to properly identify and serve the various freshly-baked bagels available at Einstein Bros Bagels. The new store is a first for northeast Louisiana, just as the opening of the campus Starbucks was a few years ago.

During a pre-semester "dry run," the store's newest employees received a crash course in serving specialty cream cheeses, while also learning how to make specialty coffees and espresso-based drinks for customers who stopped by eager to give the new store a try.

Some customers, such as Assistant Professor of Music Education Dan Sumner and student Michael O'Gorman, said that they had visited the store in several other cities and enjoyed the new grab-and-go alternatives to their mid-morning hunger pangs.

Gorman was training for employment in the newly re-opened Java City after water from Hurricane Gustav temporarily closed the Nursing Building two years ago. Nursing students and those on the west side of campus are frequent customers at the brightly lit shop, which swirls with the smell of freshly brewed coffee throughout the day.

Meanwhile, other workers spent the latter part of summer gearing up to serve food from an express lunch line version of Schulze Cafeteria. The new service is called, appropriately enough, Schulze Express and is also located in the SUB.

Robert Hoag, food services director for Aramark at ULM, proposed the cafeteria's "express" option to assist those students who want to use their residential meal plan in a more centralized campus location. Schulze Express is alleviating congestion in the SUB, where restaurants such as Subway, Chik-fil-A, Bene Grille, GrilleWorks and Home Zone are located.

"Our new openings will take a good deal of pressure off the lines at other popular eateries, and these new options will enhance everyone's dining experiences while here on the ULM campus," said Hoag.

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