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UMass Dining Services cook up two new national awards

In recognition of its achievements, the University of Massachusetts Dining Services received two second place awards over the past summer from the National Association of College and University Food Services’ national conference held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The NACUFS conference is an annual gathering of directors and managers of university dining services from around the country. With over one thousand attendees, the conference features educational seminars and numerous prestigious award presentations.

UMass Dining entered two categories in the Loyal E. Horton Dining Award competition. The award, which is named for a NACUFS founder, gives recognition to the most successful ideas in menus, presentations, special events planning and new dining concepts. UMass Dining was awarded second place in the Residence Hall Dining and Catering Special Event categories, which are two of the most competitive categories, with over one hundred entries among them.

UMass Dining attributes its Residence Hall Dining award to its innovative Stealth Health program. Stealth Health features a menu of flavorful, healthy options for students without specifically labeling them as being healthy. The menu offers increased options of proteins and fish, healthy carbohydrates, fresh locally grown produce and uses less salt in food preparation.

The Catering Special Event award was based on the Renaissance Banquet at Memorial Hall, which is a themed event featuring actual renaissance recipes and creative food displays. The event, featuring costumed staff and décor, encouraged the guests to eat with their hands. Ken Toong, executive director of dining and retail services at UMass, said the biggest challenge was conducting the event off site in Memorial Hall, a building with no kitchen facilities.

Toong is very proud of UMass Dining’s recent achievements.

“They were highly competitive categories, and we lost slot machines by less than one point each,” he said. “Placing second twice in one of the most competitive categories is no small task, and our dining programs have been in the top three for the past five consecutive years, which speaks highly of our commitment to outstanding quality and service.

“We were pleased with the results, but disappointed in not receiving first place gold medals in both categories. On the other hand, UMass Dining has been a perennial winner for the Loyal E. Horton Awards,” Toong added.

Since 2000, UMass Dining has received 13 awards and has achieved a reputation for being one of the most renowned university dining services in the country. In 2007, UMass Dining was awarded the grand prize and the gold medal for the Residence Hall Dining Multi-Concepts category. In 2008, Toong”s team won a silver medal in the category of Residence Hall Dining.

“We believe in continuous improvement and success is never final. I think we strive to be the most innovative university in the country,” he said.

Under Toong”s leadership, UMass Dining promotes sustainability and is a leader in buying local with over 25 percent of its produce purchased locally in 2009. Toong and his staff also promote global eating with menus featuring dishes from around the world.

Toong and his team have big ambitions for the 2009-2010 academic year, which will begin throughout the campus with the elimination of food trays in all the Dining Commons and in retail dining areas. Additionally students on the meal plan will receive a free stainless steel water bottle for use to take with them in order to reduce the amount of throw-away paper cups used at the DCs. Free Friday night dinners at the DC and enhancing the breakfast menu with breakfast pizzas, burritos and hot cereals are but a few of the changes students can expect to see this fall.

Vincent Capone can be reached at vcapone@student.umass.edu.

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