Campus Closeup: André Mallie
“Tell me what you eat and I’ll tell you who you are.” André Mallie (Dining Services) recites this Voltaire quotation with a subtle humor that belies his firm belief in the notion that our dining habits can offer revealing glimpses of our personalities. It’s a view he has honed since childhood.
Mallie was destined to pursue a career in culinary arts. He was born in Madagascar, but raised near Bordeaux in southwest France – an area synonymous with fine food and wine – where his family operated a restaurant. That potent combination of lineage and location instilled in Mallie a passion that is still palpable today as he discusses his new role as director of Dining Services at NMU.
“It’s never just about the food,” he says. “It’s about the experience and creating memories. … I’ve been talking to the staff and students to get a better idea of how to move forward. A good vision takes into account the dreams of many people. We will look to provide new services, a greater sense of hospitality and great food, of course. I hope to bring a restaurant approach here. I would also like to change concepts frequently. No matter what you have – and it could be the greatest thing – people get tired of it. Change creates excitement and anticipation. When you raise the bar, the school becomes a destination, not just an education.”
Mallie’s early plans are to develop a dining services philosophy to "set a vision and standards for the operation that the staff can rally behind," enhance service to off-campus entities that hold conferences and banquets at NMU, expand collaborations with Northern’s hospitality management program, post nutritional information on the Web, increase vegan/vegetarian offerings, and develop a catering brochure.
He also wants to explore revenue-generating options. He cited two partnership examples from his previous employer, the California Institute of Technology. That school was contracted to provide dining services to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a joint NASA/CalTech facility, and to a private K-12 girls’ school in Pasadena. Mallie has also had experience with occasional “pay to participate” activities such as wine tasting events, cooking classes and specialty dinners.
“I believe one must keep trying new things and be willing to take risks,” he added. “The key to success is occasional failure. You can never satisfy all people, but you can satisfy a large majority. This organization is at a turning point. Something that appealed to me about this position was the future goal of having a restaurant in Lee Hall. A very interesting program we could have there, and it would be exciting to develop that from the beginning.”
It was extreme wanderlust that convinced Mallie to pursue his chosen career. As a young man with no attachments, he figured the restaurant industry would be his ticket to travel the world, so he enrolled at the University of Culinary and Hotel Management in Bordeaux. Mallie later worked for a couple of years in West Africa and South America before making a one-way trip to his final destination: the United States. He owned fine dining restaurants in Iowa City, Iowa, and Scottsdale, Ariz.
“I was contacted by the University of Iowa to return to that area and open a faculty club that offered fine dining,” he said. “They had a medical school and a law school, and they wanted a place to entertain. It was my first experience in a university environment. I worked there more than four years and received an Ivy Award, but I decided that maybe it wasn’t what I should do, so I returned to the restaurant business.”
It proved to be a short-lived departure from higher education. Mallie was the executive chef at Chateau Pyrenees in Englewood, Colo., for just a year before Stanford University caught up with him and hired him as senior manager/executive chef. He supervised eight dining operations that served 36,000 meals per week, managed the catering department, and supervised athletic concessions in a 70,000-seat stadium.
“Stanford was the first college to develop a Culinary Institute of America educational program. My work with that allowed me to meet up with many chefs across the country and increase my circle of knowledge. From there, I went to CalTech in Pasadena. They wanted to in-source their dining services operation, and they were looking for something of restaurant caliber.”
Mallie directed 16 dining service locations in multiple sites.
The operation collectively won 27 Loyal E. Horton Dining Awards in just six years from the National Association of College & University Food Services. It was honored for retail and residence hall concepts, not to mention five consecutive gold medals for catering. Mallie also assumed oversight of the bookstores, computer store and campus ID card office when he was promoted to senior director of business enterprises. He developed financial plans for all operations and managed a staff of more than 125 full-time employees.
It was the desire of Mallie and his wife, Mindy – an Iowa native – to raise their three children in the Midwest closer to her family that brought him to NMU. The family had barely settled into their new home when Mallie began installing a wood-fired pizza oven in their back yard. He may be putting down roots in the Marquette area, but the occasional wanderlust still surfaces.
“Every year, I take a different culinary trip with my family. I go to the markets, talk to vendors, bring back ideas and try to educate my staff on what I learned. It is important to do to this to keep ideas fresh and to follow trends in ethnic cuisine. People expect quality and authenticity. Asian and Latino influences are especially popular. It would be nice to add more authentic ethnic selections here to complement the internationalization. But we could also maintain a U.P. station with the best products from this region inspired by the early immigrants and Native Americans. I like to use local products whenever possible, which is something I learned from my parents.”
Another Voltaire quotation perhaps familiar and relevant to Mallie is this: “Nothing would be more tiresome than eating and drinking if God had not made them a pleasure as well as a necessity.”
Food for thought.