20 Most Influential: Ken Toong, University of Massachusetts

During his tenure at UMass, Toong has increased meal plan participation from 8,900 students in 1999 to 16,075 in 2011.

Ken Toong
Executive Director of Auxiliary Services,
University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Mass.

It’s exhausting for us as trade journalists to keep up with Ken Toong, so imagine what it’s like for his staff. Toong has turned the dining services department into a renowned entity—in 2011 alone UMass Dining was honored with three national awards. During his tenure at UMass, Toong has increased meal plan participation from 8,900 students in 1999 to 16,075 in 2011. While many operators may have accomplished similar feats, the difference is Toong is eager to share what he has done in order to help others reach similar heights.

“For the amount of kidding we do about Ken and the UMass program, he truly is an innovator and leader in our industry,” says Jon Plodzik, director of dining services at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. “How he juggles it all none of us knows, but he keeps everyone trying to catch up.”

Toong’s commitment to authentic ethnic cuisines and to small bites with big flavor is something that has been replicated at many other institutions. In terms of local purchasing and sustainability, his department has checked every box, including a permaculture garden that was recently recognized by the White House. On top of all that his department has accomplished operationally, Toong also is the creator and host of the Tastes of the World Chef’s Culinary Conference, now in its 18th year.

“[The chef’s conference] unlike any other conference is filled with people in our industry who are dealing with the same issues that I am as an operator,” says Paul Nicolini, culinary manager at Pennsylvania State University-Wilkes Barre.

“A lot of the conferences I’ve been to are very clique-y. This conference is not. I think that comes from Ken. He is just a very outgoing person. To be able to bring in some of the best chefs in the world for people to meet, talk to, get ideas from and learn from is just amazing to me.” 


Foodservice Director has undertaken a bold initiative by identifying people who we believe are having the biggest impact on non-commercial foodservice. Our list may surprise you and should certainly intrigue you. Our honorees have backgrounds as varied as their personalities. They range from the father of the modern-day food truck to the wife of a sitting president. They include operators and suppliers, chefs and consultants, CEOs and civil servants. There are traditionalists and there are mavericks. Well-known names share space with hot newcomers. In all, 17 people, two groups of individuals and one institution compose the list. It’s time to meet FSD’s 20 Most Influential.

More From FoodService Director

Industry News & Opinion

This semester, the East Quad dining team at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor is taking steps to offer more authentic global cuisine , Michigan Daily reports.

The team has partnered with the Office of Student Life to start a conversation with students on how best to create and serve Middle Eastern and North African cuisine. Additionally, the university invited chefs from Japan and India to campus to help its chefs create more authentic recipes.

The school’s push for more accurate global cuisine was partially inspired by an international food event that got cancelled...

Industry News & Opinion
Madison food truck

The Madison Metropolitan School District in Madison, Wis., has partnered with a local organization to debut a food truck that will serve healthy, locally sourced lunch options for Madison high school students, according to The Capital Times .

The truck, which was donated by the Emmi Roth Cheese Co., will visit four high schools Tuesday through Friday, spending a day at each campus. Students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch can use the food truck as they would the school cafeteria for no-cost or discounted meals.

Members of MMSD and partner organization REAP Food...

Industry News & Opinion

Identifying prospective employees may be less challenging for foodservice operators than getting would-be recruits to complete the hiring process , according to a new study of why job applicants bail.

The report shows that nearly three out of fours applicants (74%) will drop their effort to be hired if they suspect management is racist, and two out of three (62%) will flee if they learn of sexual harassment allegations. Roughly the same proportion (65%) will halt their pursuit if they encounter indications of a gender gap in pay.

About half (45%) of candidates won’t show...

Menu Development
zoodles

Here’s how two operations are spotlighting produce this season.

Oodles of zoodles

Binghamton University underscored its growing focus on plant-based options with a recent zoodle pop-up on campus. The pop-up, which served vegetable noodle bowls in vegan and vegetarian varieties, sold out of the dishes in four hours. The Binghamton, N.Y., school aims to add zoodles to its regular menu in the fall.

A buffet boost

The dining team at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, recently re-evaluated its buffet offerings with an eye toward adding healthy options. It updated the fruit and...

FSD Resources