Four chefs representing WSU Dining Services’ culinary team earned a silver medal at a recent American Culinary Federation (ACF) competition.

The competition was held during the University of Massachusetts’ Tastes of the World Chef Culinary Conference, which is a premiere gathering of food service professionals from across the country. Attendees and presenters include registered dietitians, scientists, and chefs, representing both the private and collegiate sides of the industry.

Each year, the conference culminates in the ACF competition. Chefs worked in teams of four to transform a basket of 25 ingredients into a three-course meal and a buffet platter.

Adam Koerner, who is Dining Services’ senior executive chef, said he appreciated the feedback the team received from judges. “It’s important not only at a competition, but also at the dining centers,” he said. “We should always be thinking about the one thing we can do to make our food better for students.”

The WSU team included Koerner, as well as Will Wohlfeil, the executive chef at Northside Café; Howard Campbell, the executive chef at Southside Café; and Ray Soendjaya, the executive chef at Hillside Café.

After three rigorous hours of cooking, the chefs presented the judges with a three-course meal of grilled branzino, pan-seared duck breast, and a vanilla rice pudding. Their buffet course included grilled shrimp, Spanish-fried Yukon Gold potatoes, and tomato corn salsa.

Koerner said that winning a silver medal for their work felt amazing. “Our food looked great and it was cooked well,” he said. “When they called our names, it was a burden off our shoulders. We all had smiles on our faces—it was a great feeling.”

Sarah Larson, who is Dining Services’ director of residential dining and culinary services, said this medal speaks to the exceptional culinary talent at WSU.

“It’s a great compliment to the chefs,” Larson said. “I’m also grateful that WSU provides these professional development opportunities, which help us better serve students.”

Four WSU chefs holding culinary awards.
WSU Chefs Will Wohlfeil, Howard Campbell, Adam Koerner, and Ray Soendjaya earned a silver medal at a recent American Culinary Federation competition. Photo courtesy of UMass Dining.

Attending the Chef Culinary Conference and similar learning opportunities allow Dining Services staff to stay up-to-date with broad trends in the college market. They also learn about best practices, areas where their team is excelling, and areas where they can continue to improve.

“All of these insights benefit students,” Larson said. “I’m confident that we’re thinking about key takeaways and action plans to support continued growth.”

According to Larson and Koerner, Dining Services’ goal is to be recognized as one of the leading college dining programs in the nation. To help achieve this vision, the department has built a talented team of professionals with diverse backgrounds and culinary specialties.

“We have to present food that meets all students’ preferences,” Koerner said. “A diverse culinary staff helps us create more authentic, traditional foods. We also bring in students to teach us new cuisines. Everyone on our team is open to learning, which is something that ultimately benefits students.”

Another priority for the team was also a major topic of discussion at the conference—how collegiate dining can have a positive impact on global issues such as sustainability. Koerner anticipates that Dining Services will continue to expand their work in this space.

“It’s not just about serving good food anymore,” he said. “It’s becoming more important to educate staff and students about how our food choices affect our environment in the long term. That’s something we’ll be working on in the next six months to a year.”

Dining Services also recognizes the unique opportunity it has to educate students about these issues. “In the four years they’re here eating with us, they learn about products they may buy in the future and form habits for when they’re living on their own and making their own choices,” Koerner said. “We have a big part in that. We need to be good stewards.”