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Chef Bandura takes pride in serving Sun Devils

December 14, 2006

Imagine having nearly 600 guests for lunch five days a week, and sometimes up to 700.

That's how many people Lloyd Bandura has to feed every day at the Maricopa Café.

But Bandura loves his job – and the challenge of providing a varied menu of delicious food for his guests each day.

Bandura, executive chef for ASU Campus Dining, is in charge of menus and food preparation at the Maricopa Café, which offers a salad bar, homemade soups, a sandwich bar and hot buffet every day. He oversees the catering operations at the Tempe campus under the umbrella of Sodexho.

Those operations include Distinctive Catering, residential dining and the retail operations on campus such as Starbucks, all of which employ more than 850 people.

Bandura says his philosophy for the Maricopa Café is simple: going back to the basics.

“You can take a piece of salmon, and get it cooked correctly, and then get creative with what you serve with it,” he says. “Once you get the basics down, you can grow and change.”

Bandura, who has worked at ASU on and off for nearly 20 years, got his start in the culinary world when he was in high school.

“I started cooking at night at the Safari on Scottsdale Road ,” he says. “But my first job there was as a pot washer.”

Bandura says it was exciting, as a teenager, to watch the cooks at the fabled Scottsdale restaurant, as they prepared the food and tasted it.

“I knew I wanted to be there,” he says. “I paid attention to what was going on. I wanted to learn. I discovered that, if you want to learn, the chef will put you in the position where you can learn.”

While working there, Bandura says he learned one important lesson: He wanted to be in the “back” of the house, not the “front.”

He says he decided to become a bus boy after hearing about how much money there was to be made in tips.

“But I wasn't happy and decided to go back to the kitchen,” he says.

At the Maricopa Café, the day begins when the kitchen crew arrives at 6:30 a.m.

The staff includes a sous chef, three full-time cooks, and three pantry cooks who make salads and prepare the cold food.

Bandura is proud of his staff, too.

“There are no culinary school graduates in the kitchen,” he says. “We have all had hands-on training.”

Bandura says the Maricopa Café is a good value because it's an “a la carte” restaurant, where diners can choose their own combinations instead of having to buy an entire meal.

And it's a good value in taste and nutrition, he says. Nothing is trucked in from a central supplier, and everything is fresh.

The Maricopa Café staff welcomes comments from its patrons, Bandura says, “and we audit ourselves. We hire ‘mystery diners.' ”

The Maricopa Café is open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Friday, during the academic year.