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Jaguar Hall food director brings new ideas, cuisine to UHV dining

Aug. 25, 2012 at 3:25 a.m.

Christina Barrera, right, Jaguar Hall Dining food service director, examines the sneeze guard on top of the residence hall's salad bar with Kitchen Services Manager Frances Franklin Menchaca.

An unforgettable moment with her then-2-week-old son led Christina Barrera down a path that eventually landed her as executive chef and food service director at the University of Houston-Victoria's Jaguar Hall Dining.

While Barrera was holding her son and telling him how he could be anything he wanted when he grew up, she looked up and saw a Le Cordon Bleu culinary school commercial on television. As someone with a deep passion for cooking, it struck Barrera that she should listen to her own advice.

"I said to myself, 'How do I expect my son to follow this advice, if I haven't done it myself?' The next day, I went to Le Cordon Bleu and enrolled," she said.

A couple years later, the 34-year-old Dallas native is prepared to enter her first full semester directing UHV dining operations. Located inside the Jaguar Hall at 2705 Houston Highway, the dining facility is open to UHV students, faculty and staff, as well as the general public.

All meals are buffet-style, all-you-can-eat. Breakfast is $6; lunch is $7; and dinner is $8. Breakfast is served from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. Monday through Friday. Lunch, or brunch on the weekends, is 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. seven days a week, and dinner is 5 to 8 p.m. Sunday through Friday and 5 to 7 p.m. on Saturday.

Barrera said the $5 lunches on Thursday for UHV faculty and staff have been a hit.

"We will have it every Thursday this fall," she said. "The faculty and staff have embraced it. I think one of the reasons is because of the fresh food. I'm huge on fresh. We have fresh vegetables, and we are making a number of items from scratch, such as marinara sauce."

Barrera is familiar with all the jobs in the kitchen, including dishwashing. She started at age 15 washing dishes at Taco Bell and later served as a dishwasher for other restaurants. She got out of food service to work at a teen counseling center, though she gave up that job to enroll at Le Cordon Bleu in Dallas.

Barrera said Le Cordon Bleu instructors not only taught her how French cuisine should be made, but they also prepared her for every element of food preparation.

"They teach you what herbs should smell like or when vegetables are ripe," she said. "They made us dig into the root of everything. We studied meat trays and took an ice sculpting class. We took classes on how to make food look pretty. We did tons of food art."

Barrera said she is using the principles learned at Le Cordon Bleu to prepare meals at Jaguar Hall.

"I have a lot of eager staff members," she said. "They love to pick my brain about French cuisine and other dishes."

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