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  January 28, 2002

Chefs Competition Puts Culinary
Creations to the Test

by John Wray

What a sight! Seven teams of chefs, each preparing a different full-course gourmet meal, all working in the same kitchen at the same time!

Bright red and green peppers, yellow squash and zucchini being sliced, chopped and hollowed out, chickens being split, filleted or rouladed, sizzling sausage and aromatic garlic sending out their powerful aromas. It's truly a feast for the eyes as well as the palate.

"The Colony?" you wonder.

"The Four Seasons?"

No - the scene was closer to home. This was the second annual "Culinary Olympics" on the Storrs campus, where 26 of the University's 58 professional chefs tested their creative skills and vied to produce the most colorful, most delectable dishes imaginable.

Haute Cuisine
The all-day competition among chefs from the University's 11 dining halls, featured a recipe contest in the morning, which challenged the chefs to prepare recipes in the soup, entrŽe, and dessert categories. This was followed by an afternoon "market basket" competition in which seven teams of chefs raced the clock to prepare a full-course meal for four from the same complement of fresh ingredients.

And the results were stupendous! From Savory Sausage Bean Soup to Shrimp and Tasso Pasta, Chicken Poipet to Southern Style Zucchini Florentine, Summertime Vegetables to Curried Rice with Sausage, and more.

When the competition was complete, the three celebrity judges pronounced the results outstanding.

"We have witnessed magic and mastery here," said former faculty member and best-selling author Wally Lamb. "The food was magnificent, the choreography was really impressive, and it was enormous fun."

UConn alumna and radio and TV personality Prudence Sloan, host of "Let's Eat" with Prudence Sloan, said the contest was the most difficult she'd judged. "You are all amazing," she said. "I had no idea that UConn had so many wonderful chefs."

The third judge, local gourmet and world-traveler, Ethel Mantazarus, said the fare was some of the best she's ever seen.

Class Act
"University Dining Services is a class act," Gerald N. Weller, director of dining services, told the chefs, as the winners received their gold medallions. "You have demonstrated today that we've really 'raised the bar' in the University's dining services. And you deserve to be proud."

Today, the University operates nine dining halls on the Storrs campus, serving 2,050 breakfasts, 5,093 lunches, and 5,208 dinners daily.

Weller says the quality and variety of the food available to today's students is really tremendous.

"As enrollments have increased, and especially with UConn 2000, the size, scope, and sophistication of our food service operations have been totally transformed," he says. "We have our wonderful new Northwest and South Campus dining halls, and a third new dining hall in the Towers is scheduled to be opened in the fall of 2003, which will replace four smaller dining halls in that complex."

Steve Demers
Chef Steve Demers decorates a Cheesy Bean Casserole for the recipe contest.

Photo by Elizabeth Omara-Otunnu

In addition, Weller notes, the University's kitchens are up-to-date and constantly being renovated. North Campus will be the next dining facility renovation to accommodate the increased population from the new suites and apartments to be constructed there.

Dining services has a truly professional staff that takes pride in its work, Weller adds, including a test kitchen and computer database of 3,000 recipes from which to make up its menus, which rotate only every 30 days.

"Our goal," he says, "is to make our services reflect the needs and desires of our students, and to provide outstanding, nutritious food and personalized service, even with the large number of students we serve. We still have many improvements to be made, but we've come a long way in the past few years. We've got the momentum to move forward and the will to complete the task."

A Spirited Team
How did the chefs feel about the competition?

"It's all been in good fun," said one.

Even the chefs who did not participate in the competitions were on hand to cheer on their compatriots and indulge in some good-natured banter from the sidelines.

Said Lorraine Kjellquist, a chef for 11 years: "This competition is great and has everybody really enthused. It brings out the competitive spirit in all of us."

First Place in the "Boiling Point" competition was won by Chef David Gould's team. Gould and teammate Steve Demers both started at UConn 23 years ago. Chef Gail Davis, the third member of the team, has been with the University 14 years.

Said Doreen Brown: " I've only been here one-and-a-half years, but I love it. The students are great, the people I work with are great, and the management is caring. What more could you ask?"

Recipe Contest Winners
Recipes were judged on originality, clarity of directions, weights and measures, taste, texture, and presentation.

First Place: Soup Category, David Gould - Sausage Bean Soup
First Place: Entrée Category, Michelle George, Otha Cannon - Shrimp & Tasso Pasta
Second Place: Entrée Category, Denise Cole, Ann Marie Meres - Frittata
First Place: Dessert Category, Pam Bass, Rich Langer - Ricotta Cannolis
Second Place: Nancy Schweitzer - Vegan Oatmeal Raisin Cookie

"Boiling Point" Competition Winners
The teams were judged on cleanliness, organization, cooking skills, fundamentals, eye appeal, flavor, and aroma.

First Place: Gail Davis, Steve Demers, David Gould - Chicken Poipet, Southern Style Zucchini Florentine, Summertime Vegetables Jardiniére, and Caramelized Apples
Second Place: Lea Gagnon, Nancy Schweitzer - Sweet Jerk Chicken, Curried Rice with Sausage & Shrimp, Spicy Sauté of Vegetables and Spinach Salad with Feta
Honorable Mention: Doreen Brown, Jim Buell, Becky Shipton - Sausage & Rice Stuffed Chicken Breast with Carmel Sauce, Summer Squash Medley, Spinach Salad with Feta & Citrus Vinaigrette, and Chilled Marinated Shrimp

The Culinary Olympics were organized and supervised by Michael F. Beal, area manager, Putnam Refectory, and Robert Landolphi, assistant area manager, South Campus.

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