The Gastronome’s executive chef, Ubirajara “Ubi” Martins, is used to a dining hall filled with students feasting on a variety of meals from old-fashioned grilled hamburgers and pizzas cooked in stone hearth ovens, to delicious ethnic foods, specialty sandwiches, and an endless salad bar.
And don’t forget its famous cookies.
But these days, the usually crowded eatery’s more than 500 seats are empty since the university transitioned to online instruction as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
To serve those students still living in campus housing, The Gastronome is open and operating on an adjusted schedule. Martins and his staff come up with a new twist on comfort foods each day to make Titans feel at home.
Students visit the dining hall, grab a prepared meal and quickly leave to go back to their rooms. Sometimes they stop to say hi to “Chef Ubi.”
“They’re coming to me, trying to comfort me more than I’m trying to comfort them at this time,” says Martins, a California School of Culinary Arts alum. “I have an empty restaurant — it bugs me. I was telling the students, ‘I’m over it. This should be over already.’”
The Gastronome is an all-you-care-to-eat dining facility that has provided the Cal State Fullerton community with healthy, nutritious and well-balanced meals since 2011.
“We want the students back,” Martins says. “Right now, this place would be loud and popping, and people would be smiling and happy. But now it’s time to go through this together as a community, as a state, as a nation.”
Martins, 47, grew up in Brazil and says that having a supportive family made growing up poor easier to endure. Today, he is married and has a 9-year-old daughter and says that a strong sense of family is what is helping him cope with the global pandemic.
“My family has a big impact on how I carry myself and the aspirations I set for myself,” he said. “I’m always trying to be a better husband, dad, and a better person. For me, as a chef, it’s not about how good a chef you are, it’s the joy of cooking for others.”
Cal State Fullerton is looking for stories from our campus community about being a witness to history. Contact Senior Director of Digital Media Michael Mahi at firstname.lastname@example.org.