UPDATED: September 26, 2014, at 12:00 p.m.
Enjoying the improved dining hall menu this year? You can thank Pankaj Pradhan, the culinary artist behind The Red Lentil, a vegan and vegetarian restaurant in Watertown, Mass. This Summer, he shared his talents with Harvard University Dining Services to bring more flavor and variety to the dining halls. FM sat down with Pradhan for five questions about the collaboration.
Fifteen Minutes: What was it about this project that caught your interest?
Pankaj Pradhan: I grew up as a vegetarian. I believe in sharing my knowledge. I believe in healthy food. I believe in the new and upcoming generation. This country is leaning towards more unhealthy junk food, so for me, being a part of bringing the healthy food, bringing more environmentally conscious cuisine, things like that, I really get a lot of pride out of that.
FM: You were able to sample a dining hall meal when you first decided to work with HUDS. How would you describe the quality of the vegetarian cusine pre-collaboration?
PP: The quality was excellent. There was no talk about the quality. As far as choices go…I don’t think they had too many choices. Maybe that’s why they hired me: to introduce more choices and more flavor.
FM: Can you find similar items to the ones you created for HUDS at The Red Lentil restaurant?
PP: Some of them, like shepherd's pie, yes, but when I did the menu for Harvard dining services, I had to consider a couple other things. [When making] the recipes I considered the volume…[being] cost effective…and [seasonal] availability… Those [were] the three main things on my mind when I was working on the menu. And I wanted it to be quicker… for HUDS to do something for 6,000 to 7,000 [people they] can’t do a la carte style. They have to be more efficient.
FM: Do you have a favorite dish out of the creations you put together for HUDS?
PP: [With] any dishes I make for Harvard or for my restaurant, I don’t pick a favorite because the moment you start making a favorite it becomes harder to [have] focus and dedication on each and every individual recipe. I can tell you what’s popular, but not my favorite.
FM: So, what’s popular?
PP: Shepard’s pie is a great dish, and it’s very popular! If you are in the transition period [between] being a meat eater and trying vegetarianism, I would say shepherd's pie plays a role of transitioning people who are trying to convert.
FM: How was the experience working with HUDS?
PP: Everybody was helpful. I did not have any bad experiences. [The] people are very pleasant. The chefs are very down to earth. I had a great time. They were very helpful to me. I do not have anything bad to say about it. It was a great experience.
CORRECTION: September 26, 2014
An earlier version of a caption accompanying photographs included with this article incorrectly stated the location of Pankaj Pradhan's restaurant, The Red Lentil. In fact, it is located in Watertown.