5 great ideas gathered at a chefs’ conference

chef's council

Smart tactics to tackle labor issues, sustainability, food safety and more were offered up during FoodService Director’s first Chefs’ Council Summit, held Oct. 14-16 on the University of Michigan campus. In attendance were chefs from every segment of noncommercial foodservice, there to experience hands-on culinary workshops, food tours and presentations. Here’s some of the insight we gleaned from those chefs during the two-day program.

1. The coolest food safety idea

grab-and-go process

Michigan Dining’s grab-and-go business has increased by 75% in the last three years, says Steve Mangan, the department's senior director. To accommodate that growth and assure food is prepped and held at the proper temperature, staff members make the salads and sandwiches right in the walk-in. The large cooler is set up with a long table surrounded by shelves of ingredients and hooks holding winter jackets and hats. Employees don the warm outerwear for their short shifts, rotating back into the kitchen to warm up.

2. Battle of the fish


Frank Turchan, executive chef for Michigan Dining, is introducing more sustainable trash fish to the menu. To get students on board with two new species—blue catfish from the Chesapeake Bay and dogfish from the waters off Cape Cod—he created a cat vs. dog dinner challenge. Campus chefs prepared both options—the catfish was breaded with corn meal and fried, the dogfish dredged in a traditional batter—and students voted for their favorite. The dogfish won, said Turchan, mostly because students are used to a battered and fried preparation. Now the two are widely accepted in the dining halls in preparations like fish and chips and fish tacos.

3. Sweet smell of success

After a presentation on food as medicine, attendee Rocky Dunnam—executive chef at Bivins Pointe, a senior-living facility in Amarillo, Texas—shared his idea of using scents to trigger food memories with Alzheimer’s patients. “We use smell technology to infuse the dining room with cooking aromas at dinnertime, and consumption has gone up since we introduced this,” he says. Bivins Pointe is a cook-and-chill operation, but the smell technology allows the scent of roasting meat to waft through the dining room during a meal even though the roast has been cooked hours before, Dunnam says.

4. Baby steps toward sustainability


Ramping up sustainability is an ongoing mission for Michigan Dining, says Keith Soster, director of student engagement. In addition to introducing composting, recycling, campus pulpers and other major initiatives, several recent smaller steps have caught on with students. “Meatless Mondays changed to Plant-Based Mondays last year, and now we’re renaming it Sustainable Mondays,” Soster says. “We want to sound like we’re giving something to students rather than taking something away.” Two other “small” changes that are proving very effective: Food is served on small plates to reduce waste, and Michigan Dining sources apple seconds from a local farm—smaller fruit that is rejected by supermarkets but perfect for student meals, he says.

5. Easing the labor shortage


Filling jobs continues to be a huge challenge for noncommercial chefs, complicated by the application process and other criteria, says Matthew Cervay, system executive chef for Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania. A dishwasher wants to start working right away, but it takes over two months to get the background checks done, drug testing and other pre-employment tasks, he says. Cervay is working with HR to speed the process for certain BOH positions and creating more meaningful benefits packages. “Vacation time is not important to all employees; some just don’t understand the concept,” he says. But they do understand training to improve skill level, pay raises and other benefits. 

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