College is an experience like no other. Suddenly introduced to diverse new peers and taking classes in a plethora of unfamiliar topics, we inevitably gain new knowledge and perspectives.

At Rice, even the chefs are dedicated to diversifying our experience, and they do so through the food they serve.

Edward Castillo is one of these Rice chefs. Having worked at Rice for over 15 years, he has seen the campus expand and many kitchens built from the ground up. Currently, he works at South Servery after a three-year stay at West Servery. He is still innovating, with a goal of enticing new students to come to his kitchen and ask about the food.

“Nowadays we’re like, ‘Okay, we’ve done this recipe, let’s tweak the name,’” Castillo said. “When you read [the new name] on the website, people see it and they’re like, ‘Let’s go check it out.’”

Castillo continually incorporates puns and alliterations into his dish names. He chooses fun titles like “All The Pasta-bilities” and “Shredded Chicken with South Servery Style Sofritas.”

And why is it so important that people come and try his food?

“It’s to get people to say, ‘Hey, what’s this?’” Castillo said. “There were people who didn’t know what jicama was. People didn’t know what yucca fries were, or a yucca. [The names are] to get people to say, ‘What is this, I’ve never heard of this?’”

Think about it — how many different types of food have you tried since you’ve been at Rice? Compared to other universities, where students move off campus after a year and eat mostly microwaveable meals or fast food, Rice is unique. Many students eat all three meals from the servery for four years straight. Thus, the chefs have an opportunity to expose students to new food and different aspects of food preparation, which they definitely take advantage of.

As Castillo pointed out, the head chefs’ different backgrounds allow them to impart a unique character to their serveries. Whether Latin, Middle Eastern, or Midwestern or Southern, each head chef adds a unique style to the overall eating experience at Rice. 

Yet, the head chefs aren’t the only ones conjuring up the dishes we eat. The chefs continually draw on the ideas and preferences of their staff, meaning that the food students eat is inspired by many different sources. As he comes up with the weekly menus, Chef Kyle Hardwick, executive chef of Seibel Servery, said, “I’ll ask the staff, ‘Look, be thinking of this for next week. Come bring me some ideas.’ That way I can incorporate what they want to cook as well.”

Castillo engages his staff in the same way.

“For me,” he said, “they’re working real hard in there every day, so I’ll ask them, what do you want to do ... and how are you going to prepare it?”

The chefs take students’ ideas as well. 

“I’ll ask the students, if I can catch one, ‘Hey, I’m thinking about this, or about this dessert; what do you think?” Hardwick said.

So if there’s a dish you eat at home all the time but have yet to see in your servery, just ask. You could end up letting the rest of the student body get a taste of your own personal experience.

Eating is a social experience, and through exposing students to a variety of foods from many different sources, the chefs at Rice University facilitate students’ ability to connect with others through food.

“It’s all to get people engaged,” Hardwick said. “To get them to talk more about the food.”