Virginia Tech Dining Services has named Mark Bratton executive chef for Southgate Center. The new position, which oversees the university’s commissary kitchen, was created as the department moves to expand the services the facility provides to dining centers across campus.

Prior to starting his new position, Bratton was the executive chef at West End Market in Cochrane Hall for 19 years.

“This position will bring culinary innovation to the centralized production we do here at Southgate Center,” said Anthony Purcell, assistant director for Southgate Center. “With Chef Bratton’s proven track record at Virginia Tech, we’re excited to have him onboard as we look to elevate the support we’re providing to university dining.”

Bratton’s hiring comes as Dining Services broadens its Grab & Gobble menu, flexible, to-go meals that are becoming more popular with students.

The to-go menu ranges from sandwiches and yogurt parfaits to vegan options like sesame soba noodles and black bean and quinoa salad. The meals are easily customized and accommodate guests with allergies or restrictive diets. Currently, 50 menu items are produced at Southgate Center and available in self-serve display refrigerators at dining centers around campus.

Southgate Center is also developing a new line of Grab & Gobble to-go meals intended to be reheated and enjoyed at residence halls or off-campus housing. The fully cooked and refrigerated meals will offer entrees such as roasted chicken or pasta Alfredo and a number of sides. The new line of meals is expected to be available next semester.

Bratton said he also hopes to develop more “clean label” menu items at Southgate Center. The concept of food made with natural ingredients and without preservatives or artificial colors and sweeteners is becoming more important to students, he said.

“Students’ tastes have changed dramatically since I’ve been at Virginia Tech; they’re much more health conscious and interested in a broad range of cuisines.” said Bratton. “They’re very food savvy, which makes being a chef here a lot of fun.”

Southgate Center, located adjacent to Lane Stadium, serves as the primary warehouse, bakery, and food preparation site for the 11 dining centers and two food trucks on campus. The facility has 14,300 square feet of storage, employees 102 people, and makes more than 3,000 deliveries on campus each year. The center annually processes about 1.2 million pounds of produce and uses 68 tons of flour, along with distributing 192,000 bottles of Hokie Water.

The facility is also the main supplier to dining centers of local and sustainable products, such as campus-raised beef and pork from the Virginia Tech Meat Center. Southgate also supplies organic produce from Homefield Farm, a partnership between Dining Services and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and located eight miles west of campus.

Bratton, who started his new position in November, will supervise pastry chef Josh Carroll and pre-prep operations manager Jessica Parnell.

"The facility will continue to increase the food preparation it does for dining centers to improve the department’s overall efficiency and help create more flexibility for managers staffing individual venues," said Purcell.

“Part of being a chef is advocating for our customers and developing our staff,” said Bratton. “And this new position is a great opportunity to do both.”

Bratton joined Virginia Tech in 2000 as the executive chef for West End Market, a year after it opened. In addition to campus dining, Bratton has worked in catering, fine dining, and hotel and corporate kitchens. His cooking has received rave reviews from critics at The New York Times and Bon Appétit.

He is also a certified executive chef by the American Culinary Federation and a three-time medalist in the organization’s culinary competitions.

For current hours of operation at all our dining centers and daily menus, visit Virginia Tech Dining Services at dining.vt.edu or download the Hokie Dining mobile app. 

-Written by Will Rizzo