As Principal Food Service Manager in charge of At Your Service catering for UCLA Health's Nutrition Department, Vinod Mangal is responsible for overseeing 200 catered events - which feed about 2,500 people - every week.
Vinod Mangal has been at UCLA since 2003. He started as a cook and worked his way up to patient service supervisor before being promoted to principal food service manager three years ago. Mangal has worked in the food service/catering industry since 1985 and has had previous jobs as a catering supervisor at Tawam Hospital at the Alain University in the United Arab Emirates and assistant manager of Kentucky Fried Chicken.
What are your goals for At Your Service catering?
With a staff of five servers, the catering department sets up, delivers, takes down and sometimes serves everything from five-star sit-down dinners to casual buffet breakfasts and lunches. We are trying to offer healthy choices with good nutritional value. Our salads are healthier than they used to be and we've eliminated most of our cream sauces. We offer baked or grilled entrees and have also cut down on carbohydrates. We used to have a lot of sandwiches and pasta, but now offer fresh fruit, yogurt, several healthy salads including a Chinese chicken salad and a baby green salad with grilled chicken, and gourmet vegetables with dipping sauce.
Is all of the catered food prepared at UCLA?
About 80 percent of what we serve is cooked here. The other 20 percent comes from outside vendors such as El Pollo Loco, Lucia Pasta and Pizza and Tomodachi Sushi.
What's the most challenging part of the job?
Balancing all of the events with the staff we have available. Most days we have around 15 breakfasts, 13 lunches, nine appetizer/snack meals and three dinners. I work very hard to stay within my budget, which means sometimes I have to help out, pushing carts, delivering meals, doing whatever I have to do to get the job done. When someone makes a last-minute request, I have to go to four different places to make the change. Sometimes we get change requests while we are in the process of preparing or delivering the food. That can be difficult.
How much notice do you need to cater a party?
We generally request two days notice. If it's a big party with more than 150 guests, I like to have two weeks notice, but sometimes I don't get that luxury.
What's the most rewarding part of the job?
We always get good feedback from our customers. Hearing the gratitude and appreciation they express for what we do is great. Passing customers in the hallways and hearing rave reviews about a past event is really rewarding.
What are your most popular meals?
Our crusted pine nut chicken, grilled salmon and porcini mushroom ravioli are the most popular dishes we serve. For sandwiches, most people prefer chicken, tuna and turkey; very few take the roast beef. Between fish and chicken, fish is more popular, especially salmon and sea bass. Between chicken and beef, you'll have more orders for chicken, unless it's a special occasion, like a holiday party. Then, people like steak or tri-tip.
Do you and your wife ever meet for lunch?
My wife works as a care partner at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. We drive to work together but we never see each other for lunch. We both understand that she's busy with her patients and I'm busy with my job. Most of the time, when I can go eat lunch, it is her busiest time and when she is available, it is my most busy time.
Do you have any pointers for making a dinner party for 20 people?
First, make sure you have enough tables and chairs. If you're going for a sit down affair, you need one chef and two servers. You can pre-set the silverware, napkins and glasses. The salad and rolls should be served first. If you want to keep the costs down, have one entrée - chicken is usually a good choice. It's nice to have a vegetarian option for two or three people. That way, if one of your guests wants seconds, you have some food left over.
For catering services information, visit At Your Service Catering website.