Skilled chefs and kitchen staff members help keep campus fed

Dympna Roman is chef unit manager of the Jester production kitchen, in the basement of Jester Hall. The facility she manages is responsible for all the prep for both Jester dining outlets, the campus’s prepared grab-and-go foods and some items served at other dining facilities.

Roman graduated with a degree in culinary arts from the Art Institute in Dallas. She and her husband moved to California, where she quickly climbed the ladder at the restaurants in Sierra Nevada Resort and Spa at Mammoth Lakes. As is common in the industry, she had little to no vacation time, worked long nights, missed holidays and barely saw her family, and she says she loved it — the rush, the camaraderie. But, her life had no balance.

Now Roman sacrifices some of the culinary creativity she once had, she says, for the largest kitchen facility on campus, a team that she calls family and a 3 p.m. cutoff time so she can pick up her son from school.

Jester’s production kitchen has four 150-gallon steam kettles (for boiling pasta or potatoes or braising meat) that look like single-occupancy hot tubs. The bakery has a walk-in-closet-style oven that grabs onto racks, spinning them around so 20 trays of dinner rolls and cookies can be baked evenly to golden-brown perfection. And the hot prep line has a conveyor rotisserie box that roasts at least 40 briskets at a time.

At the opposite end of the kitchen, Roman stands at the prepared food packing station, 30 clipboards on the table in front of her, as her staff runs around her.

“The support from the team is incredible. They’re here every day, and they always strive to go the extra mile,” Roman says.

Students who live on campus live off this food, so it needs to be good. Options are key. Pizza, vegan pizza, gluten-free pizza; veggie curries with brown rice, white rice or turmeric rice; stations for barbecue, Cajun food, Caribbean food; samosas, stir-fry, chicken and waffles, breakfast all day, quesadillas, salmon with roasted Brussels sprouts, more vegan options, more gluten-free options — all are found at Kinsolving.

“The tofu is delicious. That sauce is so good,” says Dane Cessac, chef manager at Kinsolving Dining. “And all over here is all about plant power, so it’s vegetables and vegan options.”

Cessac began his career in the culinary world by diving in headfirst.

“In the late mid-’90s, I had a printing company,” he says. “I sold it because I wanted to get into the food business. I opened up a little Cajun restaurant/icehouse and was in way over my head.”

After closing his business, Cessac moved to Austin, worked at a couple of restaurants in the city and attended Le Cordon Bleu culinary school. He had an internship at Walt Disney World before landing a job back in Austin at Whole Foods Market. Four years ago, Cessac left his role as prepared food division manager and a team of 200 employees to come to UT.

“I wanted to work for The University of Texas and run an actual kitchen. An opportunity opened up here, I jumped on it, and I’ve been loving it ever since,” he says.

Cessac supervises the largest concentration of young culinary school interns and graduates. At Kinsolving, Cessac prides himself on having a talented staff who create a culturally diverse and nutritiously conscious spread for students each day. His glass-door walk-in refrigerators are immaculately organized and labeled inside. As he walks up and down the aisle of his kitchen, he is eager to introduce all his talented cooks and give them an opportunity to explain what they are making for dinner service that night.

“It’s just not the chef manager. It’s the executive sous. It’s the sous-chef and especially those cooks and chefs in the kitchen. They are the ones that work exceptionally hard,” Cessac says.