March 12-25, 2004
Vol. 34, Issue 5
Back Issues
Barcelona: A laboratory for learning
Lindners create endowment for art history program
Kaleidoscope opens with community celebration
Headlines @ U.Va.
Free clinic grows beyond founders’ vision
Simulators to replace use of dogs
Cooking up a winner
Robert Marquez: Engineering environmental solutions with low-tech designs
Engineers Without Borders — U.Va. engineering students share their expertise
U.Va. maps out
Ten-year milestone gives book festival celebratory theme
Storyteller, healer Martin Prechtel to visit U.Va.
Environmental writers Lopez, Philippon to speak
Book art meets ‘Literary Art’
A pillar of Carr’s Hill, housekeeper Barbara Jett retires
Cooking up a winner
O-Hill team wins first ‘Chef’s Challenge,’ but diners get the real prize
Chef Emily Hans of Runk Dining Hall whips up the dessert
Photo by Michael Bailey
Chef Emily Hans of Runk Dining Hall whips up the dessert — key-lime mousse in chocolate bowls — that she and her team served at U.Va.’s inaugural “Chef’s Challenge.”

By Matt Kelly

Though seaweed and giant eel weren’t flying through the air, as is often the case on the Japanese cooking TV show, “Iron Chef,” a chicken or two may have taken flight in three U.Va. dining halls last week as teams of chefs representing Observatory Hill, Runk and Newcomb dining halls battled the clock and one another to prepare creative, mouth-watering fare in the University’s first “Chef’s Challenge.”

Patterned after the cult favorite food show, U.Va.’s three-night challenge assigned each dining-hall team a food theme and a list of four “challenge” ingredients to be incorporated into recipes at noon on competition day. By the time their doors opened for dinner, the staff had to create enough appetizers, entrées and desserts to feed hundreds of students — and a panel of student and staff judges—passing through the dining hall that night. All three teams were required to use chicken as the entrée.

Chef Jerry A. Trombley and his O-Hill team, which competed on the third night of the challenge, took home the bragging rights and trophy. Trombley, assigned a Latin theme, created a quinoa-and-roasted-corn salad, spiced chicken chimichanga with tomatillo and green chili rice, fresh tomato salsa, guacamole and cilantro sour cream, finishing the meal with a cinnamon banana flan with coconut and mango. He and his team served the special to about 850 of the 1,468 diners who ate at Observatory Hill that night.

“ I feel great about this, but I think everybody wins,” said Trombley. “This is great for everybody because we are trying to do new things on the spur of the moment, when usually we plan meals weeks ahead.”

The challenge between dining halls will benefit student, faculty and staff diners, said Brian T. Murtagh, executive chef for Aramark Food Service, which contracts with the University to operate the dining halls. “We wanted something that was realistic and would give us new menu ideas.”

The Newcomb Hall team opened the challenge. Assigned a Mediterranean theme, Thomas S.A. Lee, production manager of Newcomb Hall dining services, and his team devised a menu that started with a whole-wheat-pasta-and-bean salad; moved into an entrée of chicken breasts stuffed with prosciutto, spinach and mozzarella, topped with a thick chicken sauce; and finished with a Neapolitan pastry with pear-and-berry sauce.

“ The students loved it,” Murtagh said. “We had 1,500 walk-ins, about half of whom ate from the serving station.”

“ Dessert was the best course,” said judge Rachel Brandt, a member of Rock and Wrap It Up, a student group that takes leftover food from on-Grounds events and distributes it to shelters.

On the second night, the Runk team was assigned a Southern theme.
“ This is very challenging,” said Emily A. Hans, Runk Dining Hall production manager. “We don’t want to make the recipes so complicated that we can’t keep up [serving the students.]”

Hans’ team came up with chicken on a skewer dipped in flour and pan-fried — all prepared at the service table, so the students would get freshly cooked food. Hans’ menu opened with barley-and-black-eyed-pea salad, and she offered key-lime mousse in chocolate shells for dessert.

“ Emily knows her customers,” Murtagh said. “She knows what she can do. ... There is a lot of trial and error, but if we can do it in a competition, why not on a normal Thursday night?”

Judge Dennis Clark, head of U.Va. recycling, said he was impressed with the quality of the food. “This is better than when I was a student,” he said while dining at Runk. “Newcomb was really tasty, and this hasn’t let me down. It’s interesting to see how many ways they have of making chicken.”

O-Hill’s ultimately victorious dining experience came on the third night, and all three teams waited anxiously before the judges’ decision was announced the next day.

The big winners, though, are the students and Aramark. Dining halls are competing with restaurants for students’ attention and money, as well as trying to overcome old dining-hall stereotypes, said Eddie Whedbee, food service director. “We have more students voluntarily on the meal plan than are required to be. Our goal is to keep that up and make it worth their while,” he said.

According to Whedbee, there are now 7,500 students on the meal plan — a record.

“All the dining halls wanted to do it for bragging rights,” Hans said. “It’s friendly competition, all in good fun and it drums up some business.”


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