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Keeping Up the Food Excitement

Few college foodservice directors are as creative or passionate about keeping their programs refreshed through special events as UMass Dining/Retail Services Director Ken Toong. He schedules a regular series of culinary-related events throughout the year, from theme meals (the recent Taste of Japan being a prominent example) to a six-week-long Guest Chef series earlier this spring. “Having a series of chefs rather than just one makes a big difference,” Toong says. “Students look at this and feel like they are in a restaurant.”

The biggest single event, though, is the annual Taste of UMass event, which has become one of the largest campus food service gatherings in the nation, drawing some 8,000 students for its most recent installment in April.

Held at the university’s on-campus arena, the Mullins Center (where Dining Services manages the concessions), Taste of UMass 2007 focused on a theme of healthy eating and featured celebrity chef Jet Tila, who demonstrated healthy cooking techniques to students, as well as local famers who work with the dining department’s sustainability program. Other fun events included a “UMass Idol” singing contest, an officially sanctioned Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest (with the winner going to Coney Island for the televised national competition) and a “battle of the bands.”

The culinary component of a Taste of UMass resembles a food show, with the university’s vendors setting up booths at which they serve samples of their products. The event, which featured some 80 vendors in 2007, allows the companies both to promote their products and to test potential new ones with a “live” audience.

Dining Services closes its dining halls on the day of the event and students are admitted to Taste of UMass with either a swipe of their meal card or $11 cash. This event is open to the public.

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