By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – University of Nebraska at Kearney tennis player Zhanel Turarbek usually goes with soup and a salad when she’s eating lunch at The Market @ 27th on campus.
On Tuesday, though, the junior from Kazakhstan couldn’t resist the exotic options prepared by chef Francisco Layera and the UNK Dining Services team.
“I wish this food was available every day,” Turarbek said after trying the salmon cancato and stewed chicken with cognac sauce served with steamed rice. “It’s perfect. The flavor was great.”
Hundreds of UNK students, staff and faculty were able to expand their palates this week through the Global Chef Program offered by Sodexo, which took over as UNK’s dining services provider in May.
The unique program brings Sodexo chefs from around the world to the United States for monthlong tours that allow them to share their cultures and authentic dishes with new audiences. Sodexo, which operates in 80 countries, uses the program to showcase its culinary talent while providing a unique dining experience for customers, including numerous colleges and universities.
Layera, an executive chef with Sodexo Chile, brought the flavors of his home country to UNK during this week’s visit.
On Monday evening, guests at The Market @ 27th dining hall could try an avocado and shrimp salad. Tuesday’s menu featured the stewed chicken, bread pudding, beef stew with mashed potatoes and salmon cancato, a classic Chilean dish of salmon topped with cheese, sausage and other ingredients.
Layera, who’s cooked in Europe, South America and North America during his more than 30-year career, said he enjoys providing new culinary experiences for American college students.
“The food may not be normal to them, but it’s good,” he said while describing the simple, fresh flavors used in Chilean cuisine.
One of 25 chefs currently participating in the Sodexo program, Layera is the founder and past president of the Chilean Association of Chefs and a member of the 2015 and 2019 Chilean teams for Bocuse d’Or, one of the world’s most prestigious cooking competitions.
He’s participated in eight Global Chef tours, with the current one taking him to UNK, Marquette University, Creighton University, the University of Nebraska Medical Center, University of Missouri-Kansas City and Colorado School of Mines.
During his four-day stay in Kearney, Layera also attended a Tri-City Storm hockey game, ate at the Coppermill Steakhouse and met with students and staff in UNK’s Office of Student Diversity and Inclusion.
He noted how courteous and respectful the UNK community has been and how much he enjoyed working with the UNK Dining Services team.
“My experience was incredible,” Layera said. “It’s nice for me. It’s nice for my soul.”
JP Singh, general manager of UNK Dining Services, hopes to bring more chefs from the Sodexo program to UNK in the future.