Putting the College Chef First

Doing far more than his part to counter the hairnets-and-steamtables caricature of “institutional” foodservice is Ken Toong, UMass- Amherst’s director of retail and dining services.

Thirteen years ago, while he was still working for the Marriott-operated foodservices at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada, Toong initiated what was at the time simply a campus vegan workshop (itself a fairly prescient concept for the time), a tailored program led by a CIA chef.

In its first year, it drew a couple dozen local and regional Marriott chefs but “word got around and by the third year we were starting to attract outside people,” Toong says.

When he came to UMass in 1998 Toong was ready to forego the event since he would be very busy with his other duties, “but people badgered me to continue it,” he laughs.

The first conference at UMass attracted 45 participants. But when the 13th edition of what is now called the Tastes of the World Chef Culinary Conference kicks off this month, it will have 200, and would have more except that Toong had to cut off the number in order to keep it manageable.

Held June 11-15, the 2007 conference will focus on Flavor, Wellness and Sustainability and explore how operators can provide an international palette of healthy flavors in the most sustainable manner. Presenters will include researcher/author Dr. Marion Nestle, cookbook author Mollie Katzen and celebrity chefs and authors like Joanne Weir, Jet Tila, Suvir Saran, Roberto Santibanez and Mai Pham. It will also feature expanded ACF-sanctioned hot food and baking team competitions featuring 16 teams.

Tastes of the World is fairly unique: a chefcentric event focused both on culinary education and promoting the college segment’s culinary talent while giving the chefs a place of their own to network, exchange ideas and demonstrate their talents to their peers.