The school year at University of Massachusetts started with a roll – specifically, a 422-foot California roll.
On Monday, UMass broke the world record for the largest California roll ever.
The event featured the Food Network’s Jet Tila, who kicked off the construction of the sushi roll alongside Chancellor Robert C. Holub, Wally the Green Monster, the official mascot of the Boston Red Sox and UMass’ own mascot, Sam the Minuteman.
The record was formerly held by the University of California-Berkeley after they created a 330-foot California roll last November.
“I understand that UC-Berkeley holds the record currently. We are out to take every record from them, starting with a sushi roll,” said Chancellor Holub, prior to the event. Before beginning his post as chancellor at UMass two years ago, Holub worked several positions at the California state school.
Executive Director of Auxiliary Services Ken Toong said the activity was a bonding activity for the University.
“This event shows how we can work together to create great, world record-breaking things,” he said.
During the late afternoon, more than 300 volunteers and UMass dining staff donned matching t-shirts and caps, and gathered at the Haigis Mall. After watching a short how-to video on sushi preparation, the group formed a line along dozens of tables. The tables were marked every 20 feet with markers, and adorned with signs reading, “UMass Amherst Presents the World’s Longest California Roll. Now that’s how we roll.” As 4 p.m. approached, rollers began laying out ingredients, as a crowd gathered to watch.
The volunteers crammed together, often grazing elbows as they laid 650 sheets of nori seaweed, covered in 200 pounds of rice and sesame seeds, and filled with 200 pounds of Alaskan surimi- imitation crab- 100 pounds of cucumber, and 100 pounds of avocado.
“The key is that it has to be rolled in steps, the volunteers can’t just roll the entire California roll together, but from one side to the other,” said Christopher Howland, an organizer of the event. The roll was started by Tila, as Chancellor Holub looked on, and his daughters then joined in on the rolling. The entire process took about 90 minutes.
The idea for the event, which served as a welcome to new students, came about last spring.
At the Taste of UMass in April of last semester, a 40-foot sushi roll was featured along with many other events. After successfully creating that sushi roll, many people at dining services began thinking bigger.
“We rolled the 40-foot sushi roll at the Taste of UMass and afterwards Ken [Toong] and others started to think about claiming the world record,” said Howland.
Celebrity Chef Tila was invited to the event because of his expertise with Asian food, and his experience creating large-scale food dishes. In 2005, Tila broke the world record for the largest stir-fry created in one wok, weighing in at 1,085 pounds. The next step was gathering ingredients. According to Toong, most ingredients, including the surimi, cucumber and avocado, was paid for by sponsors of the event, such as Coca-Cola and the Alaskan Seafood Marketing Institute, a company that provides dining services with seafood. Though exact numbers weren’t available, Toong said the cost of the event was “minimal,” though he estimated it was at least several thousand dollars. Items included in the cost were accommodations and expenses for Tila, purchasing ingredients not donated, and paying dining service workers rolling the California roll.
The event also served as publicity for the University.
Tila joked about the notoriety of the event.
“You Twitter it, you Facebook it, you say ‘UMass has crushed the world record!’” Immediately after, Tila announced he had uploaded a photo to Facebook while the sushi was being rolled.
One of more than 300 volunteers, Jennifer Ludwig, a sophomore, learned about the event after friends saw it on Facebook.
“My friend told me about it and I thought it was a cool idea.” She added, “I think they need to have cultural events like this on campus. It brings people together,” freshman Lynda Kry agreed.
“I heard about the event while I was at home in Quincy,” she said, smiling. “It sets the school apart, makes it an exciting place for new students.”
Despite the vast amount of food used, the sushi roll was unable to be served due to food safety rules. Responding to a participant who wished to have a piece, Tila said, “Trust me, you don’t want to eat rice that has been sitting out for five hours.” He added, “We will have sushi for you later.”
Michelle Williams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Videography by Mitchell Black.