KU Dining’s big spinach squeeze
The behind-the-scenes tale of a beloved campus dish.
Alerted by a rando social media post a couple of summers ago, in which a former KU Dining employee bemoaned her memories of the iron spinach squeezer used to prep the wildly popular spinach lasagna served at new student orientation buffets every Tuesday of every summer—“There are some cooks who carry emotional scars from the never-ending spinach squeezing”—we reached out to Rob Cashman, KU Dining’s assistant director of catering and event services, to get the inside story.
Cashman informed Kansas Alumni that the old hand-crank press of lore had squeezed its last batch three or four years ago, and his catering services cooks have since squeezed frozen—or, rather, thawed, or mostly thawed—spinach by hand.
Preparation for feeding daily swarms of 500 visitors in the Kansas Union ballroom is squeezed into the two weeks between Commencement and the launch of orientation for incoming students and their families. During that time, catering services cooks prepare and freeze seven weeks’ worth of spinach lasagna, chicken enchilada casseroles, chicken tenders, and barbecue beef and pork.
On a typically busy Tuesday, catering services cooks, working from their third-floor kitchen, will send up, along with a host of side dishes, 12 trays of lasagna, each of which contains 18 pounds of spinach-cheese mixture; for the summer, 96 trays are prepped and frozen in advance.
As for emotional scars, our fact-finding mission revealed none. Cashman and Executive Sous Chef Christian Cornelius reflected only pride, especially considering that enough food for 500-person buffet meals, four times a week for seven weeks, is prepped in two weeks by a crew of about 10, including hot and cold sides of the kitchen and the bakery. “Same team,” says Cashman, “same dream.”
Chris Lazzarino, j’86, is associate editor of Kansas Alumni magazine.