When the Auxiliary Services Corporation (ASC), SUNY Cortland’s campus-based, not-for-profit dining service provider, decided to pursue a national award for its food service, it highlighted with an exotic African dinner held during Black History Month in February.
“A Taste of Africa,” the special dinner presented Feb. 22 in Neubig Hall, featured dishes like Zanzibar duck and Ethiopian lamb stew.
The quality and creativity of the presentation won the ASC a gold award in the 2011 National Association of College and University Food Services (NACUFS) Loyal E. Horton Dining Awards Contest. This represented the residential dining special event award for a medium-size institution. It was the sixth Loyal E. Horton award won by SUNY Cortland since 2006 and the College’s second gold award for a residential theme dinner.
SUNY Cortland is still in competition with SUNY Alfred and Virginia Tech for the overall national gold medal, to be announced in July.
William McNamara, director of ASC Dining Services, said even he was surprised at his staff’s ability to pull off the memorable dinner event.
“It was simple food,” McNamara said. “But it was by far the most flavorful, best-tasting stuff I’ve ever had. I was shocked.”
About 800 people attended the dinner to sample foods that included South African hot rice salad and East African sweet pea soup to go along with the Zanzibar duck and Ethiopian lamb stew. ASC worked with SUNY Cortland’s Africana Studies Department to develop an authentic menu and choose appropriate decorations.
When it came to dessert, the dining service provider came up with its own creations in mango banana sundaes and pineapple smoothies.
“You want to give students something they might not have had before but something they’re still going to enjoy,” McNamara said.
ASC went so far as to recreate a tribal setting for the dinner. Its staff hung drapes, vines and stuffed animals to set a jungle scene. When dinner guests entered Neubig Hall, they were greeted by sound effects of chattering monkeys and roaring lions. As they approached the cashier’s station, African tribal music set in.
Two elaborate special event dinners are prepared annually in Neubig Hall at no extra cost to students. McNamara said the meals are a way to take students “out of the box” and to thank the SUNY Cortland community.
ASC submitted a digital scrapbook for the NACUFS competition. Judging was based on four criteria: menu selection, theme development, marketing of the event and overall impressions.
The College’s five previous Loyal E. Horton awards include: silver awards for residential theme dinners in 2006 and 2007; a gold award for a catering special event in 2007; a gold award for a residential theme dinner in 2008; and a bronze award for a residential theme dinner in 2010.
Founded more than 50 years ago, ASC also provides vending, campus stores, student ID cards and other essential services to the campus community.
The NACUFS has more than 1,000 institutional and industry members. Based in Okemos, Mich., the national association is dedicated to promoting the highest quality of food service on college and university campuses.
|A before (left) and after shot of the entrance hallway of Neubig Hall for the award-winning "A Taste of Africa" dinner.|