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Campus chefs found inspiration at a recent three-day conference.

January 22, 2007

Campus chefs cook up a storm during conference

By Jennifer McNulty

What to make for dinner is a question that plagues even the best cooks from time to time. For campus chefs, who prepare meals for hundreds of hungry students, faculty, and staff every day, the answer can bring smiles or complaints.

Last month, chefs from UCSC attended a three-day conference designed to get their creative juices flowing.

During the gathering, they heard "top-notch" speakers, got hands-on instruction in preparing Spanish tapas, or "small plates," and heard a lot about "flavor profiles" and what the customer wants.

"I was greatly inspired," said Bruce Holgers, senior cook at the Crown/Merrill dining facility (B.A., literature, 1968). "They really covered the evolution of food service over the years, from the days of dieticians and the four food groups through production cooking and 'mystery meat,' to where we are today with chefs doing the menu planning and running things."

Holgers calls himself the "soup guy," who makes 15 gallons at a time, and says he also makes "the stuff the youngsters usually reject for burgers and pizza--casseroles, tamale pie, that kind of thing." For Holgers, gathering with his UCSC colleagues and counterparts from UC Berkeley, San Jose State University, the University of Washington, and Stanford University, which hosted the conference, offered a welcome opportunity to reflect on his work.

Scott Berlin, director of hospitality and dining at UCSC and president-elect of the Pacific region of the National Association of College and University Food Services (NACUFS), gave a welcome presentation. A total of 26 chefs attended the event. It was the first gathering of the Pacific Chef Net, a subregional conference of NACUFS. Dwight Collins, executive chef of UC Santa Cruz Dining Services, helped plan the event.

In addition to Holgers and Collins, senior chefs from each of UCSC's five dining halls and catering participated: Daniel Wyatt, Brian DiOrio, Al Marquez, Mark Peterson, and Fernando Delgado.

Speakers included chef Marc Halperin from the San Francisco-based Center for Culinary Development on emerging trends, certified master chef Mark Erickson on “the art of a chef,” chef Dimitri Ponomarchuk on Spanish cooking, and chef Joyce Goldstein on “keeping the fire burning," the theme of the conference. Goldstein gave each participant a signed copy of her new book Italian: Slow and Savory.

Ida Shen, executive chef at UC Berkeley, said the conference was "a real wake-up call for us to get in there and be motivated and to remember why we became chefs in the first place. We were reminded that we are here because we love food, and all that it means.”

Holgers, a former teacher who changed careers about 12 years ago, has had a lot of experience preparing intricate dishes but said he really enjoys doing fast cooking well--burgers, omelets, and the "perfect poached egg." Like all his colleagues at UCSC, Holgers has to be able to do multiple things at once.

"Many times, I'll be at the stove stir-frying something Asian with my left hand and sautéing something Mediterranean with my right hand," he said.

Conference participants discussed artisan foods and the movement toward using more fresh, local, and sustainably grown food, but Holgers said he considers part of the art of cooking to be the ability to take ready-to-use foods, present them creatively, and stay within a budget. "There's art in that, too," he said.


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