More Than 100 Chefs to Cook Up a Storm at UMass Amherst Conference

AMHERST, Mass. - More than 100 chefs from colleges and universities throughout the United States and Canada will attend "Collegiate Cuisine 2000" at the University of Massachusetts, June 18-23. Kenneth Toong, director of dining and retail food services at UMass, is the coordinator of the event, which is sponsored by the University''s Auxiliary Services.

The chefs will attend morning workshops on topics including fusion cooking, nutraceuticals, American classic and contemporary cuisine, how to make the best Buffalo wings in the world, and the grab-and-go concept, in which students have the option of picking up a brown-bag lunch, rather than staying in the dining commons for their meal. Chefs will also discuss food styling and presentation. In the afternoons, they will don chefs'' whites and toques, and descend on the kitchens of Hampshire and Berkshire Dining Commons to test and develop 150 recipes aimed at pleasing collegiate palates. Toong notes that in addition to preparing meals that are appealing, nutritious, and cost-effective, these chefs must cook for thousands of people at a sitting.

"This is such an important gathering of food professionals in the higher education market - not just chefs, but dietitians, students, and managers as well," said Toong. "College customers are more diverse and ''time-starved'' than ever, and yet want healthier options, and simply good food to eat."

The conference will culminate on Friday, June 23, in a "fun but serious" competition, Toong says. From 11 a.m.- 2 p.m., teams of chefs will be given baskets of provisions, and will create meals that will be judged for taste, presentation, temperature, and texture, according to American Culinary Association guidelines. The judges will include Hugh Robert, food columnist at the Union-News of Springfield; Master Chef David St. John-Grubb; Frank Lattuca, head of the UMass hotel restaurant and travel administration department; and Ken Samonds of the nutrition department at UMass.

Three of the instructors this year are master chefs: Noel Cullen, St. John-Grubb and Tell Erhardt (popularly known as television''s "Chef Tell"). There are just 63 master chefs in the nation. To become a master chef, the highest degree awarded in that profession, chefs must pass an intense, 10-day written and practical exam, in all aspects of cooking. The test is conducted at the renowned Culinary Institute of America (CIA) at Hyde Park, N.Y., and less than 10 percent of the applicants pass.

Erhardt has won several prestigious culinary awards. He was trained in the classic European tradition, through years of apprenticeship at hotels and restaurants in France, Germany, and Sweden. He arrived in the U.S. at age 28. As assistant chef at Philadelphia''s Marriott Hotel, Tell became a local celebrity through his lively cooking segments on the city''s "Evening Magazine." Chef Tell was the inspiration for the Muppet character, the Swedish Chef. He currently has a cooking show on Channel 69 in Allentown, Pa. He also operates a restaurant, Chef Tell''s Manor House in Upper Black Eddy, Pa.

Noel Cullen is president of the American Culinary Federation, the largest chefs'' association in the country, and a professor at Boston University in hospitality services. He began his chef''s apprenticeship in Ireland at age 13. A member of the American Academy of Chefs and the Honorable Order of the Golden Toque, he has also won a slate of prestigious awards. His textbook for chefs, "The World of Culinary Supervision, Training and Management," is used at many culinary institutions.

St. John-Grubb served as an instructor at the conference last year. He was a senior instructor, then a professor at the CIA. One of his strengths is teaching chefs who must serve high-quality cuisine to very large groups of people, such as those on college campuses, cruise ships, and in hotels that host conferences.

NOTE: The press is welcome to cover any part of the conference. Afternoon cooking workshops and the Friday competition are the most visual segments of the conference. Although the competition, slated for 12:00 p.m. at Hampshire Dining Commons, is closed to the public, invited guests and the press are welcome to share in the meal. For more information, contact Kenneth Toong at 413/545-2472 or Chefs will be available to meet with the press following the competition.