Penn State, Maryland share dining expertise

New Big Ten conference rivals united on campus in January not to go head-to-head at Beaver Stadium, but for another reason -- food.

Six chefs and one sustainability representative from the University of Maryland visited Penn State's University Park and Altoona campuses Jan. 15 and 16. As part of the Chef Exchange program, Maryland dining employees toured Penn State facilities, worked alongside chefs and learned about operations. They also swapped information about menus, service standards and other issues.

The Chef Exchange program is an informal networking and professional development opportunity for Penn State and Maryland, said Penn State Executive Chef Mark Kowalski. It is the first such relationship between another university and Penn State Food Services. Penn State dining employees, including Kowalski, toured Maryland's facilities in College Park last December.

The two institutions entered into a partnership before Maryland officially announced its entrance to the Big Ten on Nov. 19. But, some Penn State dining employees called themselves part of the conference's “welcoming committee.”

“That's kind of been an added bonus,” said Pollock Dining Commons Assistant Director James Hopey. “It's good to know that you have people in the same boat as you.”

Maryland dining staff members toured and ate lunch at Pollock. Later that afternoon, Maryland chefs split into groups to work the dinner shift at Pollock and Penn State Altoona's Port Sky Cafe. Staff members then spent the night at The Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel.

In 2011, Pollock underwent renovations to update the building's infrastructure, accommodate more students and offer a new menu of choices. The decor went through a drastic change from traditional cafeteria-style to a lively world of options, food stations and dining areas. Last year, Port Sky Cafe went through a similar renovation making both facilities ideal for Maryland chefs to tour.

On the morning of Jan. 16, Maryland employees also toured Waring Dining Commons, South Food District, and the Housing and Food Services Warehouse before heading south.

Eion Mohammed, a Maryland chef attending the two-day exchange, said he admired Penn State's food stations and healthy options. 

“There's much for both of us to learn,” Mohammed said.

Penn State and Maryland are members of the National Association for College and University Food Services, an industry organization with more than 550 higher education institution members meant to “foster exceptional campus dining programs through a passion for food and service.”

The University of Maryland, founded in 1856, enrolls more than 37,000 students on a 1,250-acre campus in College Park. Eleven other state public institutions comprise the University System of Maryland, one of the largest in the United States.

Jim Hopey, assistant director at Pollock Dining Commons, led a tour of the dining facility for chefs from the University of Maryland. Credit: Leighton ScottAll Rights Reserved.

Last Updated February 06, 2013