Flavours of the U of S

The U of S has its own “Iron Chef” in James McFarland who took his culinary skills down south to an annual event that showcases Canadian campus cuisine.

By Kris Foster

The University of Massachusetts Amherst, simply known as UMass, has hosted Flavours of Canada for the past two years, said McFarland, executive chef and assistant director of Culinary Services.

"UMass has invited a few chefs from Canadian universities to prepare some special dishes for their students, faculty and staff at this event. It is a great opportunity to represent not just the university but Saskatchewan as well."

McFarland, who has 20 years of experience in the food industry, and U of S Sous Chef Moksud Mohammed were the only representatives from Western Canada featured at Flavours of Canada this year. The other Canadian universities that tabled kitchen creations at this year's event were McGill University, Waterloo University, the University of Guelph and the University of Western Ontario.

The U of S contingent prepared a menu showcasing some regional specialties as well as one dish that is a favourite of students. The regional plates included prairie beef short ribs braised in balsamic and figs and a steelhead trout crusted in flax seed and sesame.

"Those plates are pretty Saskatchewan focused," said McFarland, who also included Saskatoon berries in the vinaigrette that accompanied their salad. "For our student's favourite dish, we pan seared some perogies with smoked sausage, roasted mushroom, dill and a whisky-chive crème fraiche."

That is not exactly the type of food one imagines being served in a university cafeteria but according to McFarland, "the whole profile of food has changed. People are starting to realize how food can play an important role in not just surviving and sustenance, but also bringing people together to share and celebrate experiences, diversity and culture. The perception is that campus food is institutional, but that is not the case. This event helps put campus dining in a new light."

Between completely renovating Marquis Hall over the past couple years and changing the menu from cafeteria to cuisine, McFarland said he knows the U of S is on the right track. "One thing we have figured out is that we can have a large influence on every day campus life by engaging students and faculty through food and a positive dining experience. We look forward to continuing to elevate that experience."

Attending Flavours of Canada helps to that end as it is a great chance to network with other campus chefs, he said. "We got some new ideas we want to try, like bacon wrapped chicken stuffed with leeks or featuring a weekly ingredient in different ways." And people liked their taste of Saskatchewan as well, he continued.

"Our dishes were very well received by students and chefs alike. We've already received our invitation to Flavours of Canada next year.