Story Highlights

  • About Melchior
  • Making changes at SDSU
  • Melchior's future
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Paul Melchior is a classically trained chef, a marathon runner, a part-time student and a father of two.

In his spare time - who knows where he finds it - Melchior is spurring a change in the dietary habits and environment-related decisions at San Diego State University.

Melchior joined SDSU seven years ago as executive chef and was promoted to director of SDSU dining services in  June 2006. In less than one year, he eliminated trans-fats from SDSU and did away with waste-producing trays in student cafeterias - all while being a student himself.

About Melchior

Melchior trained as a chef in Seattle at the American Culinary Federation Apprenticeship for three years before eventually coming to San Diego. He worked in hotels in Hawaii and along the West Coast for more than a decade, honing his cooking skills and learning what people desired in a perfect meal.

But Melchior never earned a four-year college degree. It's not that he couldn't; he just had other plans. He was satiating other people's appetites, leaving his own educational cupboard bare.

"I built my career through experience but I never actually got a degree," Melchior said. "So I'm building towards one now. It's something I'd like to have."

Melchior's taking general education classes at Mesa College and Miramar College. He takes one or two courses per semester, and in about one year he'll have enough credits to enroll at SDSU. He wants to major in business, communications or marketing.

He says "it's fun taking classes with some kids who think they're wasting their time" going to school. Younger students, he says, don't realize how fascinating and applicable a good education can be.

"I know a lot of the younger people get bored and don't want to be there," Melchior said. "But I find it fascinating. I took an economics class where everything we learned was just so interesting. I guess maybe it's different learning it all after having worked for so long."

Making changes at SDSU

Melchior's formal education is far from complete, but that's not stopping him from drastically revamping the eating scenery at SDSU.

Under his watch, The Burger Place in East Commons became Daphne's Greek Express, the Greek Odyssey Café in Aztec Center became Salad Sensations and Aunt Mary's in the West Commons became Juice It Up.

The changes all were made with sights set on healthier eating options for faculty, staff and students. Judging by the money the restaurants are making and the lines of hungry customers they're creating, the reception has been smooth.

"We do food surveys once a year with the National Association of College University Food Services, and we learned a couple of years ago that our customers wanted healthier options," Melchior said. "Now, seriously, just look at the line at Salad Sensations sometime. It's more than double what it was last year. The business has exploded."

His decisions haven't only altered the names of the eateries and the items on their menus. Melchior learned about other companies eliminating trans-fats from their products about 18 months ago, and he decided to follow suit. Previous tests claimed that trans-fats were cost-effective because they had a longer shelf life than trans-fat-free products, but a battery of newer studies showed that wasn't true.

In fact, Melchior said that in addition to being healthier, the non-trans-fat products SDSU now uses last longer than the goods with which it used to cook.

"We had to re-engineer a lot of recipes to take out certain oils and margarines to satisfy the new edict," Melchior said. "But after doing those tests, we realized that it'd be good for people and probably save some money in the long run."

The change alters the recipes of products ranging from french fries in cafeterias to baked goods in Aztec Markets and Starbucks.

And in addition to eliminating trans-fats, Melchior also removed the trays in the Dining Room at Cuicacalli Suites. Trays are considered a staple of college cafeterias, Melchior said, but they also produce unnecessary waste.

"People used to just take a tray, grab food from everywhere, eat a little bit and then throw the rest away," Melchior said. "Without the trays, people take less and then we cook less. The lines are also a lot shorter."

Melchior made the move last fall, and in a 16-week span, SDSU eliminated more than six tons of waste and saved more than $14,000 worth of food.

Melchior's future

Four years from now, Melchior expects to be opening a new, hybrid, more upscale Aztec Market in what will then be the newly remodeled Nasitir and Storm Halls. The market will have a variety of soups, a build-your-own sandwich station and a coffee shop feel.

By then, Melchior also will be a student at SDSU. He'll probably still be running marathons, too.

Who knows what else he'll be up to?

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