Witnessing—and tasting—history

University of Massachusetts sets Guinness Book of Records for stir-fry.

Dear readers: How did you spend your Labor Day? Picnic? Party? Laze the day away at the beach? Veg out in front of the TV watching sports?

I worked on Labor Day, and it was fun, because I got to chronicle a bit of history being made. I traveled up to Amherst, Mass., to the University of Massachusetts, where students were arriving for the start of the fall semester. Those willing to volunteer—about 100 or so—got a chance to help the university set a record, one that is now part of the Guinness Book of Records.

On the lawn of Haigis Commons, neat the Fine Arts Center, UMass Dining Services created the world’s largest stir fry. Led by popular celebrity chef Jet Tila—he is probably as well known on campus as he is in Las Vegas, where he leads the back of the house team at Wazuzu, at Steve Wynn’s Encore Resort—a team of chefs and students combined nearly 900 pounds of chicken and more than a ton of assorted vegetables into a stir fry for the ages.

The concoction was prepared in a 14-foot-diameter pan built by a local company, All Steel Fabrication of Grafton, Mass. The pan, which weighed more than 1,600 pounds, was hoisted by crane and placed atop a specially designed fire pit into which more than 1,800 pounds of charcoal had been poured. While a couple hundred students and staff, including Chancellor Robert C. Holub, looked on, Chef Jet directed nearly 20 chefs as they seared chicken, cooked it to a proper serving temperature and then stirred in several hundred pounds each of onions, broccoli, green beans, snap peas, boy choy, carrots and peppers. After the chefs added about 200 pounds of stir fry sauce, the whole thing was finished off with basil—grown from the university’s own permaculture garden—and about 200 pounds of peanuts.

"We wanted to do more than just set a new world record," said Ken Toong, UMass’s executive director of Auxiliary Enterprises. "We also wanted to show our support for sustainability and promoting healthy eating as we welcomed the students back."

Dining Services did do more than just set a record. They obliterated it. By cooking up a stir fry weighing 4,010 pounds—as certified by Freddy Hoff, from Guinness’s New York City offices—the department laid to waste the previous standard of 2,319 pounds, which was set by a high school in South Africa in 2005.

(Ironically, the South African school had topped a record that had been set by a team led by Jet Tila a year earlier.)

The cost to Dining Services was virtually nothing, aside from the labor involved. A host of sponsors—Kikkoman, the National Peanut Board, McCormick, Kraft Foods, Dole, Bush’s Best, Performance Foodservice, Coca Cola, Bunge, Barilla, FreshPoint, Tyson, Hormel Foods, Green Mountain Gringo, Campbell’s and Texas Pete—donated money or product to make the record happen. Of course, the labor involved was no small matter. It takes a lot of muscle to chop a ton of vegetables and cut up half a ton of chicken.

After the hundreds of students in line got a taste of the stir fry, the rest was packed up and delivered to all of the dining halls, so that students who hadn’t witnessed history could still partake of it. To see a photo record of the stir-fry being prepared, visit our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/foodservice.director .

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