Real Food and Good Times at UNH

I was on a college campus this past week, specifically in a college dining hall, watching and taking photos with my Blackberry of an exciting Guiding Stars Healthy Chef face off. It has been just a few years since I pushed my tray through the food line to see what kind of grey meat was being served or how much green had already drained out of the “green” vegetable that sat in the steaming tray for too many hours. I was curious to see up close and personal how today’s college kids were being treated at feeding time.

Entering Holloway Commons on the campus of University of New Hampshire was an experience from the get-go. I took the elevator up to the second floor and immediately entered this amazing food service facility with numerous stations, seating areas and wonderful second and third floor autumn views of the campus. A person who did not know their way around could easily get lost. From the sushi station to the grill station to the cereal bar with 30 selections to the dessert station, there was something for everyone. Eating vegan? No problem. Need a gluten-free diet? Step right up, there are plenty of choices. When it comes to food and food selection, if this is the norm on college campuses then college kids today should be the envy of each and every one of us long graduated.

After finding my way around and sampling the sushi before the competition, I started to observe the clientele coming to “dine” between 4:30-6:30 p.m. Of course, the teens and twenty-somethings that I saw clamored in dressed in everything from jeans to dresses and heels or straight off the soccer pitch in shorts or sweats. Hair was neat in some cases, askew in others, but all of them eagerly got in line to dig into the eats. The wonderful staff took great care in feeding the masses, stopping to chat with the students or to help a young man in a wheel chair navigate the crowds.

In the midst of all this, our Guiding Stars Healthy Chef competition was getting off the ground. With banners, signs, balloons and an MC in place, three two-person teams with staggered starts had an hour to prepare, cook and present their Guiding Stars-rated meals. Upon completion, a panel of six judges, including Erin M. Dow, our Guiding Stars Expert Chef, tasted the entries and then voted on a number of factors including technique, appearance, texture, taste and nutritional content to determine the winner. The Cutie Pies took first (by a whisker) with their wonderfully aromatic Angus Top Blade steak with rosemary, cuke salad and risotto with sundried tomatoes coming out on top. For their efforts, Sam and Erica each won one of the prominently displayed mountain bikes. Once the winners had been announced, the Director of Dining Services, Jon, decided to take a spin on one of the bikes around the dining room! I loved the exhilaration of the moment and it was quite a sight to behold, but it certainly captured the energy of an evening meal at Holloway Commons.

What I enjoyed most about the evening’s festivities outside of the actual competition was the never-ending buzz in the dining room the whole time I was there. It was palpable not just because of the competition but because UNH had created a space where food was the focal point and as a result it brought together the students to eat, chat and come together as a community. I’m sure for many it was either the end of a long and busy day or  the beginning of a long and productive evening…after all these are college kids!