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When you cook, you cook with love.
William Del Valle shares his story of how kitchen curiosity led to a career in cooking.
When people talk about William Del Valle, one of the first things they mention is his singing!
“His singing keeps us smiling and livens up the kitchen,” shared Dana Swanson, UDC Chef. “Most of his songs are in Spanish. Sometimes they are sad. Sometimes they are happy. Sometimes they are TikTok trends!"
But William Del Valle brings more than just music to the kitchen of the Union Dining Center, he brings a love for cooking and a constant curiosity that allows him to learn every day.
Growing up in Puerto Rico, Del Valle said cooking was a big part of his family and he was always very curious about what was happening in the kitchen.
“When I was little, I would try to look into the pots to see what my grandma was cooking. But every time I opened the top of a pot, she would hit my hand with a spoon. She never missed!” Del Valle shared with a big laugh.
“My grandma told me, ‘When you cook, you cook with love.’ And I love cooking. It’s not a job to me. I could be in the kitchen all day. I like making people happy with my food,” he said.
Del Valle says the kitchen has been his best school because over the years he’s been able to learn by observing other cooks.
He shared, “I’ve always worked in kitchens, for 17 years. When I’m in the kitchen, I’m always looking at everyone, learning. I used to clean and do dishes, but I wanted to be at the flame!”
One thing De Valle struggles with is choosing a favorite food item because, “I love all Puerto Rican food.” Puerto Rican food is not only what he grew up eating, but is a food tradition he continues with his own family at home in Fargo. Now, he is excited to share some of his favorite recipes with the NDSU community for the upcoming A Taste of Puerto Rico event in the Union Dining Center.
At A Taste of Puerto Rico, you will find traditional items like monfongo (fried green plantains, mashed with seasoning), tostones (fried plantains, served with a traditional dipping sauce), and tembleque (coconut pudding), just to name a few.
When asked what is the major difference between American and Puerto Rican food, Del Valle very quickly blurted out, “SEASONING!” Puerto Rican food is full of flavor and commonly seasoned with adobo—a combination of spices including garlic powder, oregano, onion powder, salt, pepper and more. But some things are kept close at heart. With a grin, Del Valle said, “But I’m not sharing my bread recipe, that one I’m keeping a secret.”
The Customer Service Queen
NDSU Dining’s Deb Hoffer goes the extra mile for every customer
If you’ve ever stepped foot in Minard Hall, you more than likely have seen Deb Hofer’s smiling face. Hofer has been with Dining for seven years, and has spent most of her time managing the Minard Coffee Shop.
Hofer’s journey in the food service industry started when she was just 15-years-old as a dishwasher. By age 19, she worked her way up to manager through her hard work, dedication, and love for the industry.
When it comes to customer service, Hofer gives her full, undivided attention to every customer that comes her way. “I love customer service, and often times I’ll say to my student employees, ‘No isn’t in our vocabulary.’ Meaning, we go the extra mile to get the customer whatever they need.”
Hofer’s approach to customer service is simple. “My approach to customer service is to treat each customer as if they are coming to my home and to make them feel appreciated because that’s how they should feel.”
During her career at NDSU Dining, Hofer shared that besides the daily interactions she has with her customers, the best part of working for dining is her student employees. “My students have been the best people to work with in my long career at Dining. My team is so diverse, caring, and all have great personal goals, which I’m sure that they will achieve. I would be so proud to call them one of my own children,” Hofer gushed.
This summer, Hofer and her team have been preparing for Dining’s newest venture, reopening Minard Coffee Shop as a Proudly Serving Starbucks® location. This an extremely exciting opportunity and Hofer said she is eager to take on the task. “Bringing in Starbucks is a great asset to NDSU Dining and I’m honored to be given the challenge.”
The new Minard Coffee Shop is the best of both worlds: Starbucks® handcrafted beverages and NDSU’s classic food you know and love.
Learn more about the NEW Minard Coffee Shop at ndsu.edu/dining/starbucks.
A self-less love for serving students
Clean Eats cook, Franklin Charon shares his rewarding experience of working at NDSU Dining
Dining’s Franklin Charon makes an impact on the NDSU student experience every single day. As the lead cook at Clean Eats, West Dining Center’s allergen-free food station, Charon specializes in making sure students get a variety of options that are safe, healthy, and delicious.
Charon joined NDSU Dining in 2015 in the bakery. “I was kind-of their gopher. I just helped wherever they needed me,” he said with a smile. After about a year, he began to move around within Dining. He worked in the Food Court at Marketplace Grill, then the Residence Dining Center, and finally at Clean Eats in the West Dining Center.
“When I went to The Grill, I just loved it. I loved my customers. I loved the interactions. That’s what it is for me. I could be having the worst morning ever, but I get to come to work and brighten other people’s day. If I’m having a bad day, just to come in and see the kids smiling helps brighten my day. And that is very rewarding,” Charon stated.
Charon often goes the extra mile for his students, as well. He had a student athlete with specific allergies who couldn’t get meals due to her workout schedule. Franklin set aside food on those days, so she didn’t have to miss out on a meal. Charon also shared that a student came up and asked about desserts – which aren’t typically served from Clean East during the summer season. Franklin said, “I told him to give me 20 minutes, and I went to the kitchen and whipped up some Rice Krispy bars.”
Since starting at Clean Eats, Charon has grown his knowledge of cooking immensely, especially with allergen-friendly meals. “At first, I was always nervous about bringing something new in because I’m not as knowledgeable about it compared to others here,” he shared. But as time passed, cooking allergen-friendly meals has become second nature to him. “I’ve been doing it for so long that it’s not a challenge anymore.”
Charon wants to invite everyone to visit Clean Eats. “It’s more than just ‘allergen-free.’ People don’t know how good the food is! Honestly, I wish more people gave it a chance. You never know unless you try,” he said.
West Dining Center and Clean Eats
The West Dining Center (WDC) is NDSU’s designated allergen-friendly dining center on campus, providing students with sensitive diets the opportunity to eat fully prepared meals without worry. The Clean Eats station in West Dining Center serves a menu free from gluten and the top eight allergens: fish, shellfish, dairy, soy, eggs, nuts, tree nuts and wheat/gluten. In fall 2022, Clean Eats will remove sesame from all menu offerings. For more information about Dining’s Dietary Services, visit ndsu.edu/dining/dietary_needs.
Fargo Native Lives his Life-long Passion of Baking at NDSU
How a family tradition turned into a 25-year career
NDSU Dining is well-known for our delicious, homemade baked goods. The scotcharoo bars are famous, the breads are heavenly, and the dining center desserts are simply perfection. NDSU Dining Lead Baker, Jim Curtis, has had a hand in it all.
Baking played a huge role in Curtis’ upbringing. His grandmother was an avid baker and restaurant owner at the Dutch Maid in Fargo. She passed down her love for baking to Curtis’ father. And from there, he passed it on to his own son, Curtis. “I didn’t bake with her at the restaurant, but when we were at home we baked together as a family with my dad,” Curtis said.
With a long family history, it was only natural for Curtis to gravitate towards baking. After graduating high school, Curtis decided to attend baking school through the Clearfield Job Corp located in Ogden, Utah. He then started working at the historic Leeby’s Grocery in 1985, where Zanbroz is currently located in downtown Fargo. Curtis also worked in the bakery at the Northport Hornbacher’s, where he first started working early morning baker’s hours. Today, Curtis starts his day at 1:45 a.m. in the Dining bakery.
After 25 years at NDSU Dining, Curtis says his favorite part of his job is being able to see the finished product almost immediately. “When you see the end results, you can tell right away if it’s good or not,” he said. He also finds it rewarding to know that students and faculty love the products that he puts a lot of hard work into.
Curtis also shared that NDSU Dining stands out in the food service industry for two very important reasons. Curtis stated, “NDSU is one of the few places in food service where you can have a set Monday through Friday schedule, and that’s one of the main reasons why I chose to come here. Also, the benefits are great.”
A Passion for Planning and Energy for Miles
NDSU Catering’s Bryan Lim talks about his Malaysian roots and American favorites
If you have ever had a meal, coffee break or delivery from NDSU Catering, you are sure to have seen Bryan Lim’s familiar and always friendly face. Lim has worked for Dining since 2011, and moved into the Catering Lead position in 2018. But his journey that led him to NDSU began years ago.
Lim was born and raised in Malaysia. Cooking was very important to his family. Lim said, “We cooked every day. We don’t store food like you do here. We go to the market in the morning, then use that food to cook for the day. Everything is fresh.”
When Lim was in high school, he moved to the United States with his mother and two sisters. “When I came here, the food was different, people were different, everything was different,” he explained.
One of the most surprising differences was the size of food portions and plates. “Everything was huge,” he said with a laugh. He also thought eating raw veggies was super strange, sandwiches were weird, and he had never seen so many types of cheeses in his life!
Now, years later, his American favorites are frozen pizza and sloppy joes, plus any of the NDSU Catering desserts (he has a major sweet tooth).
If you miss him at your next catering event, you may spot him training for his next marathon. Lim loves to run and has completed six marathons so far. His goal is to run an ultra-marathon in the future, which involves running 240 miles over three days.
This will be Lim’s fifth year in Catering, and his favorite part is the planning. “I love the planning aspect. Planning ahead, looking at a month’s worth of events, and preparing for everything… that is the best part of my job.” He also credits the environment of Dining, his coworkers, and the people he serves as the reasons he loves his job. “There are so many people who have guided me and I have looked up to,” Lim said.
Forty One Years And Counting
From blizzards to high water, Rhonda Axtman has served the herd for more than 40 years.
In 1980, 18-year-old Rhonda Axtman graduated high school in the small town of Mott, North Dakota. On a whim, she decided to give the big city of Fargo a try, and got a part-time job at NDSU Dining in the dish room. Forty-one years later, Axtman is still serving the herd, with a quiet smile and a loyalty to NDSU that is hard to beat.
As the most veteran member of our Dining team, Axtman has helped in almost every area in the dining center. “My favorite position is serving people food,” Axtman said. But with a laugh and a shake of her head, she admitted that the dish room is her least favorite.
Axtman credits her team as the reason she has stayed at Dining for so long. “We have a good team here and all three dining centers work together so well,” she said. “Plus, we have great health insurance and benefits, like vacation and sick time.” One thing that Axtman is most proud of is that through 40 plus Fargo winters, she has never missed a shift because of a storm.
“Rhonda’s commitment to NDSU Dining is literally second to none. Rhonda is a pleasure to work with and incredibly knowledgeable. She knows all the Dining history about renovations, menus, events and staff and she has great stories and wisdom to share,” said associate director of Dining, Roxanne England. “Dining is fortunate to have Rhonda as such a dedicated employee.”
Even though Axtman has experienced many things over the past 40 years in Dining, she said the recent happenings with COVID-19 will probably always stand out the most. “There were so many changes. We had to be very flexible and move around and just make it work.”
One of the most exciting things she has experienced over the years are the remodels and changes in the West Dining Center. “My favorite is the most current renovation. There are so many food stations to eat at and choose from. I think the students really like that,” she said. “When I started, we only had one station that served food… but there were a lot less students back then.”
Axtman has tried many recipes and menu items in her years, but she has three favorites: boneless wings, pasta and orange chicken. When it comes to dessert, she loves our cheesecake and Oreo cookie salad.
When Axtman isn’t on-campus, you might find her enjoying the races at the Buffalo River Speedway in Glyndon or Fargo’s Red River Valley Speedway. At home, she likes cooking and says lasagna is her signature dish.
From Le Cordon Bleu to NDSU
How a chance encounter led to a 20-year culinary career.
Twenty years of experience, world-renowned instruction and international training—Patti Vetter’s culinary career has made her an essential ingredient for NDSU Dining. Today, Vetter relishes in sharing her knowledge with her team.
Vetter’s love for cooking started early. “Baking cookies with my mom and grandma, baking bread with my dad … that’s how it all began. Cooking brings people together. It just feels good,” she said.
Although a spark was ignited at a very young age, Vetter’s curiosity would lead her to a chance encounter that would change her life.
Vetter explained, “My dad was a commercial photographer and let me come along to a food styling shoot at a hotel in Fargo. It looked neat, and I thought ‘I want to try this.’” At 16 years old she tried it, and she hasn’t left the food scene since.
In the beginning, Vetter worked as a banquet prep cook, then a cook and then a chef. After a few years of working in the hotel industry, Vetter decided she wanted to hone and develop her skills, and she decided to do it at one of the most prestigious schools in the world, Le Cordon Bleu. Founded in Paris in 1895, Le Cordon Bleu is famous for providing the highest level of culinary and hospitality instruction. Vetter settled into the program at their Twin Cities campus, but the excitement wouldn’t end there. Two years into her program, she was personally invited to intern at the Sofitel Hotel-La Defense in Paris, France.
In her three months there, she was exposed to many different aspects of international cuisine, but predominately worked with modern Mediterranean and traditional French cuisines. “What’s interesting about traveling abroad and learning from them is that everything is different, but kind of the same,” she said with a laugh.
Vetter’s experiences abroad opened her eyes to the world, but she missed her family and her homesickness led her back to the States where she worked her way up to executive chef status. Her work continued to improve her culinary breadth of knowledge, but she wanted a new challenge that would allow her to develop leadership skills. Vetter went back to school and earned her bachelor’s in business management, which she credits as giving her a unique lens and a new perspective outside of just the cooking side of things.
It was at this point in her career when she joined NDSU Dining. “I had never experienced collegiate cooking. When I interviewed, I loved the people and the atmosphere,” she said.
One of Vetter’s favorite parts of the job is the relationships she has built with student team members. “I love being able to apply all of my cooking knowledge and skills to what I do here, and then share that knowledge with students. I love helping them get excited about food,” stated Vetter. “Everyone comes to work with a positive attitude, and does their best to make customers happy and satisfied. The entire NDSU Dining team keeps me coming back to work every day.”
Vetter is the chef manager at the West Dining Center and has been with NDSU Dining since 2019.