On March 31st, 2015, UMass Dining teamed up with Wonderful Brands to host a UMass Cook-Off to determine who is the best retail or residential eatery on campus. Contestants had to utilize Wonderful pomegranates, pistachios, almonds, or citrus (including Wonderful Halos - California Mandarins). Six Teams participated featuring chefs from the 4 Dining Commons (Berkshire, Worcester, Hampshire and Franklin) along with The Blue Wall and UMass Catering/University Club
Each team prepared dishes and presented them to be reviewed by a team of judges for the judges’ tally award, and also to be voted by students for The People’s Choice award.
Tim Woods, Manager of Worcester Dining Commons, broke down the judging rules:
Taste: Rated on a scale of 1-10
Plating: Rated on a scale of 1-5
Originality: (use of Wonderful brand pistachios, pomegranates, or citrus):
Rated on a scale of 1-5
Each team put their best plates forward:
Team Franklin: Pomegranate and Pistachio Salad, Fig Crostini, Grass Fed Beef Medallions, French Fries with Pistachio Aioli, Sautéed Kale with Bacon, and Pomegranate Chai Tea
Team Blue Wall: Crisp Shrimp, Vietnamese Salad, Ma La Szechuan Tofu, Bok Choy, Sticky Rice
Team Hampshire: Kale Salad with Pistachios and Carrots, Moroccan Kefta Brochette, Seafood Tangine, Eggplant with Mauhammara, Pistachio and Feta Aioli, and Saffron Rice with Pistachios
Team Catering/University Club: Pomegranate Chili Glazed Tacos, Grapefruit Coleslaw
Team Worcester: Bhajillas with Pomegranate Ketchup dipping sauce, Fruit Salad with Pistachios and Tequila Pomegranate Dressing, California Role & Veggie Role with Pomegranate Infused Sticky Rice and Crushed Pistachios, Baked Chicken with Pistachio Mole Sauce, and Grilled Squash and Pomegranate Rice Pilaf
Don Sabola, Chef at Worcester Dining Commons and “captain” of Team Worcester, said that this event was exciting for him because he “got to see his coworkers show off their talent.” He explained that he and his team spent Spring Break in the kitchen: building and reworking recipes until they came up with the perfect submission. Sabola has been with UMass Dining for 30 years, and “loves being able to see new faces every school year.”
Don Sabola, Chef at Worcester Dining Commons, presents his team’s dishes to the judges.
Judges from Wonderful Brands included Steve Diener, Juliana Sicairos, and Jim Feeney. Diener, Director of Food Service Sales, has been with Wonderful Brands for 10 years.
“Wonderful Brands offer pomegranates, citrus fruits, mandarins, grapefruits, pistachios, and almonds” says Sicairos – Industrial Sales Coordinator. She was able to list the benefits of their products: pomegranates are high in antioxidants, pistachios and almonds contain healthy fats, and citrus contains healthy doses of Vitamin C. Diener added that all of their products are high in fiber.
The event was well-attended by students. Marissa D, a sophomore majoring in Communication Disorders, walked all the way from Central Residential Complex, located across campus, to Hampshire Dining Commons because she loves the events so much. When asked which specials she had tried, Marissa responded with “I’ve already tried them all!” Her favorite dish was Team Worcester’s avocado California roll with pomegranate rice.
Customers dining at Hampshire were able to vote for their favorite dish. The winner of this category received the People’s Choice Award. For the People’s Choice Award, 3rd Place went to Blue Wall with 63 points; 2nd Place went to Hampshire with 70 points; and 1st Place went to Franklin with 96 Points!
People’s Choice Award Winner Team Franklin poses for a photo with the judges from Wonderful Brand, plus Garrett DiStefano and Ken Toong of UMass Auxiliary Services.
People’s Choice Award Winner Team Franklin’s plated entry
After a tough deliberation, the judges made their decision. Diener stated, “We saw creativity we haven’t seen in years.” Without comparing notes, the judges’ tally results were as follows: a tie for 3rd Place between Catering and Berkshire with 99 Points; 2nd Place to Worcester with 102 Points, and 1st Place to Blue Wall with 104 Points. With a 2-point spread between first and second place, it was evident that the competition was tough and every team gave it their all.
Judges’ Tally Winner Team Blue Wall poses for a photo with the judges from Wonderful Brands, plus Garrett DiStefano and Ken Toong of UMass Auxiliary Services.
Judges’ Tally Winner Team Blue Wall’s plated entry.
All of the teams showed incredible sportsmanship, and we look forward to hosting another successful UMass Cook-Off for years to come.
Special thanks to Wonderful Brands