Back in January, University of Massachusetts Dining Services Director Ken Toong made a friendly wager with his counterparts at the University of Pennsylvania (Matt Smith) and Pennsylvania State University (Barry Scerbo). The wager was on the Super Bowl, which pitted the New England Patriots against the Philadelphia Eagles. Depending on which team lost, each agreed to send the other's campus a generous package of his region's signature foods (lobsters, baked beans, clam chowder, etc., in the case of UMass. Philly cheese steaks, soft pretzels, scrapples. etc., in the case of the Pennsylvania schools.)
Toong and Scerbo made a side bet: Toong would send his executive chef, Willie Tsg, to cook a meal for Penn State students (while wearing Eagles regalia!) if New England lost; alternatively Scerbo promised to send his executive chef, Bill Laychur, to UMass to prepare a special feast for Toong.
Of course, we now know how the Super Bowl turned out, and the Pennsylvania schools duly sent their food packages to Boston (the cheese steaks were a hit; the scrapple wasn't). Scerbo was also willing to make good on the side bet, but Toong had a better idea. He suggested the two schools hold a cooking competition instead.
Thus was born the "UMass vs. Penn State Cooking Extravaganza," held in early March, pitting Tsg against Laychur to see who could come up with the better regionally influenced meal. A panel of five judges—including a hospitality professor from UMass, two independent journalists and one student from each school—would grade the creations on presentation, creativity, practicality and—of course—taste.
Tsg's menu consisted of grilled Maine lobster with a Cajun beurre blanc, Boston clam chowder and crab cakes with a mango salad. Laychur countered with Amish chicken corn chowder, oak lettuce salad, venison loin steak and Philadelphia cheesecake.
The result, like the Super Bowl, was very close...and also like the Super Bowl, New England came out on top.
But really, everybody won. "It was an outstanding event to showcase campus dining at two great schools," Toong says. "Hopefully, we can use this occasion to recruit potential students since dining on campus is an important part of campus life and the event was widely covered by the media." He noted that some of the recipes in the competition were actual dishes featured in special theme menus at both schools.
What about a rematch? "I plan to send Willie to Penn State next year," Toong promises.