A word to the wise: Don’t ever talk business with Daryl Ansel on an empty stomach. A conversation with the new food and beverage director for Housing and Hospitality, Dining Services, will make you want to head straight for any one of UCLA’s dining halls on the Hill — DeNeve, Rieber, Hedrick and Covel.
Take the Bruin Burger, for example. Developed as a signature item on dining hall menus, the Bruin Burger consists of buns baked in UCLA’s own bakery, lightly grilled with just a bit of butter. The beef is 100% round chuck, freshly ground every day. Topped with melted American cheese, tomato, lettuce, pickles, onions and a special dressing, the burgers are the answer to a famished student’s prayer.
“It’s a very simple recipe, but the ingredients are very high-quality and pure,” Ansel said. “That gives it a very special flavor, which is not dissimilar to the approach that In-N-Out takes. We just think we do it better.”
Eateries on the Hill are, in fact, constantly evolving. According to Ansel, nearly every facility that is part of Housing and Hospitality Services (H&HS) will undergo a renovation sometime during the next three to five years. Rieber Hall’s renovation is scheduled to begin in January, and the three-year Sproul Infill project, currently under way, will include a new dining hall that will seat 750 people.
“We’re trying to innovate and expand our capabilities to provide variety and quality for the students,” Ansel explained. “The better their residential experience, the better students do at school. My guess would be that that carries into their alumni involvement. Obviously, a devoted, loyal alumnus is an important part of a world-class institution like this.”
Ansel’s own positive experiences as an undergraduate at UC Berkeley helped fuel his interest in food. A native of Bedford, Mass., Ansel said he was introduced to a whole new world of food when he came to the West Coast.
“Berkeley was a very gourmet place at the time. Alice Waters and Chez Panisse — it was kind of that whole period. And I was exposed to a lot of food that I had never seen,” he said. “Indian food, Mexican food — I really became a consumer more so than a cook.”
While still a student, Ansel worked as an administrative analyst in student affairs, a job he continued after graduation. But he couldn’t shake his deep-rooted interest in food, which began when he would accompany his father, an accountant, on his rounds. One of his father’s clients was Dunkin’ Donuts, and Ansel — 8 years old at the time — would hang around the shops and learn how the doughnuts were made.
On Sunday nights Ansel would help his father prepare the family’s dinner, which usually consisted of sturdy American fare such as steak, potatoes, salad and mushroom gravy. The memories of those dinners stayed with Ansel, and when he got older, he took up food as a hobby and enrolled in several cooking classes. He worked as a restaurant apprentice on the weekends and started getting requests from people to help cater their parties.
Teaming up with a business partner to form a catering company, A Taste of Paradise, Ansel eventually left his administrative analyst job at UC Berkeley to work full-time on his new venture. Thus began a career in the food and beverage industry that has spanned more than 20 years, including a position as food finance manager for Universal Studios and as CFO for such companies as SBE Restaurant Group, Starr Restaurant Organization in Philadelphia and Grill Concepts in Los Angeles. He also went back to get his master’s degree in hospitality management at Cornell University.
Photos by Reed Hutchinson
Ansel came to UCLA in April of this year and currently oversees a staff that includes two associate directors, an assistant director, three area managers, a corporate chef, an executive pastry chef and hundreds of food-service workers and cooks. “The history here at UCLA is very strong, and I’m lucky to inherit a great team of people,” he said. “This experienced team — through talent, hard work and pride in UCLA — has built one of the greatest dining programs in the country. They care about the students and about giving them the best food and service possible. I’m honored to be part of this team.”
Robert Gilbert, sustainability coordinator for H&HS, said that Ansel has advocated sustainability practices throughout the dining halls and “boutique” (stand-alone) eateries since his arrival six months ago. Trayless dining has been expanded from Hedrick to Rieber Hall, and an organic herb garden (with mint, rosemary, thyme, sage and oregano) will soon be planted in an area behind the Courtside building in Sunset Plaza.
“Daryl saw sustainability as something that Housing and the students take very seriously,” Gilbert said. “UC has a new policy on sustainable practices, and Daryl immediately came in when we were finalizing what the food policy for that would be. He’s been proactive in getting a task force together. Anything that I approach him with, he’s always considered with an open mind.”
Ansel said: “For me, this is a way of giving back a little bit to my roots — where I started and what made me successful. I know that by helping to provide college students with a good experience here and by supporting their education, I’m helping to start them on a successful life. And that’s a great feeling.”
To see what UCLA’s dining halls and boutique eateries are offering on their menus today, visit this site