AMHERST, Mass. - The 29th Annual Chef Culinary Conference works to help chefs from higher education programs improve their skills. UMass Amherst hosted the week-long event this year for colleges and universities from all over the country.

What You Need To Know

  • UMass Amherst hosted the 29th Annual Culinary Conference this week to help chefs from higher education programs improve their skills

  • Colleges and universities from all over the country participated in the event including a cooking competition on Friday between over a dozen teams

  • Certified American Culinary judges are grading on taste, texture, cleanliness, look and color of the food and state of the working environment

  • Some colleges and universities are using their focus on healthy dining to attract students

More than a dozen teams competed in Friday's cooking competition. Each was given a mystery basket of ingredients to prepare a selected food item.

Showchair John Noble Masi said it's about testing each chef’s ability to make a quality dish while also being creative.

"Oysters, dragon carrots, wines-made mushrooms, which if you haven't tried which are really super delicious," Noble Massi said. "And so more often than not, the chefs, they're ability to use the different ingredients that we have in a really interesting way, how creative they are and putting all of those things together."

Certified American Culinary Judges are grading the food and they're looking for more than just taste.

"Cleanliness and organization in the kitchen," Noble Masi said. "When it comes to the plate, people eat with their eyes. It's gotta look good and it's gotta taste delicious. You've gotta have a nice variety of colors and textures."

Noble Masi said higher education has taken a more serious approach to dining over the years and it’s important for these institutions to invest in creating a healthy eating culture for students.

"College and university dining, in many cases, particularly in places like UMass Amherst, they're using it as a unique selling point to get students to come in," he said. "And elevating the food that they serve actually has statistically increased the performance of students. Students eat better, eat more healthy, they perform better in class, they're happier. So it has a lot of benefit beyond just being good food."

Noble Masi said while there were winners in Friday’s competition, it really gave the chefs an opportunity to learn from their peers and apply the knowledge into their own kitchens.

"Don't let that learning stop here," he said. "I'm a lifelong learner, and I encourage my students that I teach to do the same thing. Stay engaged, come to these conferences, learn, and then more importantly, great that you came here but bring it back to your place and then leverage that to make your place better, you a better person."