This semester, the University of Utah welcomed Rooted, a new dining option on campus with a fully plant-based* menu, to the newly completed Gardner Commons.
Rooted is the project of Jennifer Nielsen, Chartwells Dining Services Sustainability Coordinator, and Peter Hodgson, Chartwells Executive Chef. Nielsen and Hodgson worked together to create and test the restaurant’s entirely plant-based menu. Hodgson told the Chronicle that he adopted a plant-based diet in 2016 for health reasons in an interview earlier this year.
Plant-based means that the food contains no animal products whatsoever — no meat, eggs or dairy. The focus on “plant-based,” as opposed to “vegan,” is because of the sometimes negative associations that come with the word. “Vegan” may come across as exclusionary. “Plant-based is for everyone,” said Nielsen, who has been vegan for 24 years herself. “It’s just more options, that’s what it is.”
Breakfast at Rooted is served from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. and includes vegan pancakes. For lunch, Rooted offers five regular menu options from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. In addition to the regular menu, the chefs at Rooted come up with daily specials. I suggest trying the chickpea salad sandwich, which is bright and lemony with a delicious dose of fresh dill. The sandwich is packed full of plant-based protein and will leave you feeling full until dinner.
Nielsen’s goal for the menu served at Rooted is to supply students and staff with food which is flavorful, satiating and a good value for the price. “It needs to be something that tastes good,” said Nielsen, who believes healthy food should be available to anyone, especially students. Nielsen, who received her degree in health education and nutrition, wants to show skeptics of vegan cuisine how plant-based and healthy food can be satisfying and, most importantly, delicious. Rooted accomplishes this and more.
Rooted uses fresh ingredients and makes almost everything on site, including their hummus, ranch and nut-free pesto. If you regularly eat plant-based, then you’ll recognize popular plant-based swaps such as Hampton Creek’s Just Mayo and Daiya cheese. Nielsen hopes vegan desserts will be added to the menu next semester as well.
Rooted is also part of Nielsen’s goal as Sustainability Coordinator to make dining on campus more environmentally friendly. Gardner Commons itself was built with sustainability in mind and the building utilizes geothermal heating and cooling.
For Nielsen, part of sustainability is finding products from local sources. Rooted serves coffee from local roasters, their bread comes from Stone Ground Bakery and most of the produce used is from local growers.
Students can also participate in the new to-go container program on campus. Reusable to-go containers are available for a one time purchase of five dollars. The next time you come in to get food, trade in your old container to get cleaned out and you’ll be provided with a new container. Whether you are a long-time vegan or simply someone looking for a fresh, tasty lunch, Rooted is an exciting new option for students at the U.
*The gluten-free bread option at Rooted is the only non-vegan item, as it contains eggs.