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Binghamton University faculty clash in cook-off challenge

Students sample potential future Sodexo options

Faculty from across campus served up their very best Wednesday night in an amateur cooking competition between departments at Binghamton University.

Ryan Gyanchand/Contributing Photographer Contestants featuring faculty from Binghamton Athletics, the Decker School of Nursing and several other University departments compete in the Academic Culinary Challenge Wednesday evening in the Appalachian Collegiate Center. For nearly two hours, teams from various schools and facilities sliced, diced and cooked meals from designated ingredients, including salmon, sweet potatoes and even Cinnamon Toast Crunch, to serve to three judges from the Student Culinary Council (SCC).

For nearly two hours, teams from various schools and facilities sliced, diced and cooked meals from designated ingredients — including salmon, sweet potatoes and even Cinnamon Toast Crunch — to serve to three judges from the Student Culinary Council (SCC). The panel of judges included two students and Director of Auxiliary Services Peter Napolitano.

Sodexo dining halls have hosted cooking competitions for years between students or chefs. This contest featured faculty representing Binghamton Athletics, the Decker School of Nursing, the Anderson Center, Residential Life and University Center for Training and Development.

“We’ve run this event now for five years, and we decided it was time to involve the academic world and it would be better to get the administration involved in some of the things we do on campus,” said John Enright, director of resident dining.

Starting at 5 p.m., teams began preparing their meals, and after the first 30 minutes, they began to present their meals to the judges. Presentations were done in five-minute increments, after which teams would begin working on their second course.

Each team had a variety of supplies available to them, but they were required to use a rack of lamb, salmon, Brussels sprouts, pecans, green Tabasco sauce and Cinnamon Toast Crunch in their meals.

According to Mitchell LaRosa, one of the judges and a freshman majoring in history, the teams were competitive and the scores were close, but one team was the clear favorite.

“The food was great and pretty much all the teams were within a few points of one another,” LaRosa said. “But hands down the Decker Nightingales stuck out.”

While teams like Bearcatitude, the Athletics Department and the Anderson Center came close with dishes such as Jail Island Kabobs and crusted salmon, the chefs from Decker had an advantage that proved unbeatable.

“I love to make Brussels sprouts, Fran (another chef) normally cooks fish and lamb and we all put our experience together to make some really great food,” said Margaret Decker, a professor from the School of Nursing.

The Decker chefs won a free catered lunch for up to 15 members of their department.

In collaboration with the contest, nearly a dozen representatives from food companies, including InFusion, McCain, Lomac Associates and Lupo’s, provided free samples at the event to test possible options to introduce in the dining halls. The samples included cheeses, yogurt, olive oil and chili, among others.

Enright said that he would meet individually with every company representative to find popular new food options.

“I have a synopsis with each of the vendors, and we talk about student feedback — if there was good feedback, bad feedback and what students would like to see on campus,” Enright said.

Enright said there would be no direct input from students to Sodexo staff, but that the vendors would report on student reactions. Despite this, Enright said there was no reason for the vendors to be dishonest.

“If they want to keep a good relationship with us on campus, then they’re going to want to bring something to campus that sells,” Enright said. “So it’s really not productive to them to bring something they know isn’t popular.”

LaRosa said he thought the decision to exclude students from the process was strange.

“It is odd to look for opinion of students, but not to ask them directly since they are the ones that are eating this on a daily basis,” LaRosa said.