University of Massachusetts Amherst
There are a few college and university dining programs that are on the cutting edge; such programs are a far cry from the mystery meat and "surprise" dish experiences of my school days. These contemporary dining programs offer a variety of cuisine prepared by chefs, cooks, and food and beverage teams that rival those of some high-end hotels and restaurants. Both the level of professionalism, and the ambiance of the facilities are impressive. This is one trend in American dining that I hope takes hold and becomes the norm instead of the exception.One shining example of this change is the University of Massachusetts Amherst dining program. In fact, the program's reputation is so good that the National College and University Food Services recently awarded it for its outstanding food service. Ken Toong, the director of dining services, is committed to introducing local produce, sustainable agriculture, and a seafood watch program within the menu.
I helped to kick start a guest chef series for the U of M Amherst in which I wrote the menu for dinner service for over 3000 students. The staff and I served informal White House dishes including fire cracker ribs, curry, sweet potato soup, and Caribbean grilled chicken. The dining room appeared to be full of some very content people; the students literally couldn't get enough. This event also served as a fun time to greet people, share stories, and take lots of pictures with the students and staff. The evening then ended with a key note talk followed by a question and answer period. Special thanks to Chef Willie Sng and Tony Jung for their help preparing the food and to Martha Monaghan and Ken Toong for putting the program together.
THE UNION LEAGUE
Last week I had the opportunity to do a White House style dinner in a building that, on the inside, looks and feels like the White House itself. The Union League of Philadelphia resides in a historic brownstone house dating back to 1865. This building spans an entire city block containing almost a quarter of a million square feet of space. Inside, the walls are covered with portraits of past Presidents and other décor that invokes a similar sense of American History found within the walls of the White House.The origins of the Union League are deeply steeped in a fascinating and interesting past. It was originally set up in 1862 to strengthen and preserve Abraham Lincoln's Union Government during the Civil War. The Union League now has three philanthropic programs that are focused on giving back to a community, and education programs about the history of the United States.Within the Union League house, there are fourteen event and banquet rooms that can be used for special events. Business Week Magazine and Liberty Mutual Insurance were clients who hosted a White House style function in one of the rooms of the Union League house. I worked with Chef Eric Gruevinski, and his crew, who did a fantastic job in creating this special event.
Making predictions about trends in food is never easy. Through careful observation, and some adventurous dining, one can gain insight on up and coming food trends. I had the chance to address what's at the top of American food trends in a keynote speech at the opening of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Show in Orlando, FL. I was invited to speak at the Ferdinand Metz Food Service Forum by Chef Metz himself. Chef Metz was the driving force behind the Culinary Institute of America for 20 years (1980-2001). Ferdinand Metz has literally changed the face of culinary education within the United States. It was a true honor to join Chef Metz in the ribbon cutting ceremony and the forum. Both Chef Metz and I are in agreement that more nutritious food and ethnically inspired flavors will be playing starring roles in restaurant menus. A brief article about the talk can be found at: www.qsrmagazine.com/articles/news/story.phtml?id=5723&from=rss.Although I was in and out of Orlando within one day, I got to visit with two of my old friends from when I was the Executive Chef at the Boca Raton resort and Club. Jean Spielman, an amazingly talented pastry chef, worked with me at Boca Raton. I had a wonderful time catching up with him and trading stories. I also caught up with Andrea Millner who worked at both the Boca Raton and the Green Brier with me. Her business is American Brownie Company Incorporated. It is the hottest thing in brownies on QVC. She describes it as a true chocolate sensory adventure. With names like Double Decker Chocolate Peanut Butter, 150 year old Grand Marnier, Double Dark Chocolate Triple Espresso, Blondie Gone Nuts and Ooeey Gooeey Turtle, one can't help but be envious. It's really great to see Andrea doing so well.
It's been over 10 years since I've been to Boston. The amazing amount of growth that has taken place since I was last there is indicative of a recent USA Today's article on the Bloggiest Cities in America. Boston took the number one spot for having more posts (per 100,000 residents) than any other city.While in Boston, I helped out with a charity event for Dave Coombs. Dave is an old friend of mind who works at Steve Connolly Seafood. Steve Connolly, the founder, makes it his mission to "supply his customers with pure fresh seafood of unsurpassed quality, endless variety, superalative service and fair prices." I certainly can testify that I did see lots of beautiful fresh seafood including a rare lobster claw that weighed over 2 and 1/2 lbs. without the shell.The charity event took place at the home of Rick and Michele Ryan. I worked with Chef Matt Donegon and his crew from The Catered Affair in Hingham, Massachusetts. I remain grateful to them, particularly because at the time of this event they were in the midst of the busiest week in their company's 30th year history. Despite this challenge, Matt and his crew were unfailingly helpful and cheery.During my stay in Boston I was able to take in a spectacular view of the Boston skyline from my room at the Harborside Inn . It is located in the heart of the city's waterfront and financial district. The inn is a renovated mercantile building that once served as a place where ship merchants could deliver their goods to the busy port of Boston. Dinner at the Harborside Grill is a great place to take in the sunset, a glass of wine and a wonderful seafood dinner.
The state of Indiana has an interesting gambling law: Gambling can only be conducted on a boat that is physically placed in water. Belterra Casino Resort and Spa found an interesting way to comply with this law – they took an authentic riverboat (which now has over 38,000 square feet of gaming space), floated it in a large yard pond, and then connected the boat to the resort building. The pond itself has no real connection to the ajacent Ohio River which winds it way through Indiana, Illinois, and of course, Ohio.Regardless of gambling laws and gold ol' American ingenuity, the Belterra Casino Resort and Spa was the site of two conversation and dinner events that I did last week. One dinner was for the Indiana Credit Union League and the other event was for approximately 300 of the Casino's best customers. The chef on board the boat is Randall Cox. Overall he and his crew do a fantastic job – they seem to be quite busy there.Overall, everything went well, however, there was one minor behind-the-scenes hiccup that occurred towards the end of service. The ice cream for my cobbler was pulled out of the freezer prematurely. Consequently, there was an ice cream "meltdown" by the time dessert was ready. Fortunately, we were still able to provide a fantastic meal for the guests and finish the evening with applause.