Penn puts health on front burner

Tia McDonald

Gingered Chicken Breast and Melon Salad

Tia McDonald, Campus Executive Chef, Penn Dining Services

Yield: 1 Serving

2 1/4 tsp. lime juice
1/8 tsp. each ground cumin, ground cinnamon, ground turmeric 2 tsp. olive oil
4 oz. chicken breast, boneless and skinless
1/2 oz. fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 3/4 oz. watermelon, peeled, seeded, cut into 3/4 inch cubes
1 3/4 oz. cantaloupe, peeled, seeded, cut into 3/4 inch cubes
1 3/4 oz. honeydew melon, peeled, seeded, cut into 3/4 inch cubes
1 1/2 oz. romaine lettuce, cut lengthwise in 1/4 inch strips
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350°. Toast ground cumin, cinnamon and turmeric in a hot sauté pan until fragrant and toasted. Place toasted mixture on a dish and set aside until cool. In a bowl, whisk together lime juice, 1 tsp. olive oil and toasted spice mixture until well blended. Set aside.

Season chicken breast with salt and pepper, remaining olive oil and grated ginger; place on baking sheet pan and cook in oven until internal temperature reaches 165°, set aside and let cool; slice lengthwise in ½” strips on a slight bias.

Cut melons and romaine lettuce as directed; line serving platter with cut lettuce. Toss melon cubes in lime juice and olive oil mixture, top melon with sliced chicken breast. Finish dish with fresh herbs such as mint.

This year, trans fat frying oil will be banished from New York City menus and eliminated from fried foods and spreads in Philadelphia restaurants. Penn, however, is a couple steps ahead in the growing movement against the artery-clogging substance, having switched to a trans fat-free frying oil in all 14 dining facilities as of Jan. 8.

Frying in every dining hall is now done with non-hydrogenated corn and sunflower oil—a zero grams trans fat oil. John Cipollini, an Aramark employee who is the resident district manager of Penn’s dining services, says University students have always had a great interest in healthy food, so the move is a natural one for them. “We have very sophisticated customers,” he says. “We want to be supportive of that.”

Plus, Penn Dining has long used other substances such as olive, canola or corn oil in stovetop cooking, water for steaming and fresh (mostly trans fat-free) ingredients in a majority of foods, says Tia McDonald (pictured), district executive chef for Penn Dining.

“We are responding to the needs of our students,” says Laurie Cousart, director of business services. “Colleges across the city are responding the same way.”

In fact, this trans fat frying oil ban applies to all of the colleges and universities Aramark serves, including St. Joseph’s and West Chester Universities. “Aramark Higher Education has been at the forefront of the movement,” says Cipollini.

Trans fats, used in margarines, cookies, crackers and fried foods, are hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. Cipollini explains that trans fats moved into the kitchen about 30 to 35 years ago, after a search for a cost-effective fat for pastry making and frying. These fats, which give some products a longer shelf life, tend to raise bad cholesterol, and actually lower good cholesterol in the body.

Nutrition information for Penn-prepared meals is available on the Penn Dining website (, as is information about portion control, places to find vegetarian or vegan options, and information about Penn’s relationships with local growers and vendors. McDonald counts off numerous local vendors that supply products to Penn, including the dairy consortium Wawa, Metropolitian Bakery, KindCakes—which makes organic spelt flour vegan products—and Insomnia Cookies. Cousart says these relationships help to recreate the local supply lines that existed years ago.

“There’s a whole movement in the country to pay attention to the food we eat,” says Cousart. “We have both an opportunity and an obligation to be at the forefront of [this].”

Faculty and staff are welcome in any of Penn’s 14 dining locations and can purchase meal plans, or pay with cash or PennCash. Check the Penn Dining web site ( for special deals for faculty and staff.

Originally published on March 1, 2007.

Originally published on March 1, 2007