UMass takes the cake for best campus dining

By Jackson Cote

(Collegian File Photo)

Last year, The Princeton Review ranked the dining halls at the University of Massachusetts No. 1 in the country. This year, they came back for seconds.

The Princeton Review made their announcement on July 31, and on August 1, Chef Robert Bankert and Chef Anthony Jung of UMass Dining appeared live on NBC’s “Today Show.”

Chef Bankert—who at first was nervous to appear on live television—and Chef Jung can be seen serving the hosts an array of campus dishes, including bao buns, Vietnamese summer roles with peanut sauce, Chicken tikka masala “naan-wiches” and blueberry almond tarts.

“Our three key words that we use a lot are healthy, sustainable and delicious. If we meet all three points, our food is going to be great at the end of the day,” said Bankert, who oversees all culinary operations at Berkshire and Hampshire Dining Commons.

Bankert added that providing students the ability to customize their food options is another aspect of UMass Dining that puts it on top.

“The more we can cook food to-order and to a student’s needs, the happier they’re going to be,” he said.

Focusing on what UMass students want out of their campus dining experience is something UMass Dining looks into year after year to improve their food, according to Ken Toong, executive director of Auxiliary Enterprises at UMass Amherst. Toong cited UMass Dining’s ambassador program and how they look for student input during the school year and the summer.

“I think each year we get better and better. We always look at the students,” said Toong, who believes that great campus dining can attract new students and create a rich campus culture. “We’re pretty up to date with millennials, what you guys say you want.”

In a press release, Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy said, “UMass Dining’s outstanding food helps make our campus a great place to live, study and work.”

“We’re very proud of our dining services staff and all they do. They’ve always been No. 1 to us,” he added.

Previously, UMass Dining was ranked No. 10 in 2012, No. 3 in 2013 and 2014, and No. 2 in 2015 and 2016, and No. 1 last year.

One of the reasons for The Princeton Review’s current ranking is because UMass Dining has “built a strong food culture of serving healthy, sustainable and delicious food, one meal at a time,” Toong said.

The fact that UMass Dining sources 30 percent of their food locally is a source of pride for Toong, along with their new addition of sustainable sea food.

“I believe we are doing the right things—the diversity and authenticity of the food, supporting local businesses,” he said.

Toong also spoke proudly of the staff at UMass Dining, citing them as another reason for their No. 1 ranking.

“It’s all about teamwork,” Toong said. “It takes many hardworking, dedicated staff. We employ over 1,000 student employees.”

According to the University’s press release, UMass Dining is the largest college dining services operation in the country, serving 45,000 meals daily or 5.5 million meals per year. Since 1999, overall participation in the University’s meal plan has more than doubled from 8,300 participants to more than 19,200.

For both Toong and Bankert, though, the hard work does not end this year; the two said they are still looking for ways to improve the work done in and out of the kitchen.

“It’s a lot to live up to at the end of the day,” Bankert said. “And I think we all know on campus that even though we’re number one, there’s still a lot we can improve upon every year.”

“I’ve always believed we can do better,” Toong said. “Success isn’t final.”

Jackson Cote can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @jackson_k_cote.