That’s the most frequent request that UMass Lowell Dining Services gets from students. To satisfy that hunger and add a culinary change-up to campus cafeteria menus, Dining Services invited Anna Jabar-Omoyeni, chef and owner of the popular downtown Lowell restaurant La Boniche, to bring some of her signature dishes to campus.
As part of the Dining Services’ Visiting Chef series, Jabar-Omoyeni developed a menu for the University based on some of the favorite recipes served at her restaurant and worked with campus chefs to adapt them to turn out about 1,200 servings. The meals were featured in dining halls and at the Mill City Restaurant on South Campus on March 30.
“It was exciting to be a part of this. It’s always fun to get out of the restaurant and be around other chefs,” Jabar-Omoyeni says. “The staff here did a really great job.”
In addition to bringing new dishes to the cafeteria menus, the Visiting Chef series also introduces students to off-campus dining options, says Rachel DiGregorio, marketing manager on campus for Aramark, the company that manages the University’s food services.
“Students don’t eat every meal on campus. This is an opportunity to showcase local restaurants,” DiGregorio says.
Plans to bring a taste of La Boniche to campus got under way over the winter. Jabar-Omoyeni developed a menu that included mixed greens and feta salad with a citrus-honey vinaigrette dressing; black bean soup; pork tenderloin with caramelized plantains in mango butter; pan-roasted chicken with spring vegetables in Thai coconut curry sauce; crème brulee and berry bread pudding. Then she came to campus over spring break to test out the menu with the Dining Services staff.
For Jabar-Omoyeni, the return to campus stirred up memories of her student days. She came to UMass Lowell in the mid-1980s to study chemical engineering. After working part-time while a student at A.G. Pollard & Son’s, a popular downtown eatery, she opened La Boniche in 1988. The restaurant has become a fixture in downtown Lowell’s dining scene featuring food that she describes as “simple and rustic.”
Dining Services Executive Chef Tim Conklin says he and Jabar-Omoyeni share a common philosophy and approach to preparing food, with an emphasis on fresh ingredients.
Dining Services launched the Visiting Chef series last spring as part of its effort to inject more variety into cafeteria offerings. While the menus rotate through a four-week cycle in which no recipes are repeated and special theme meals are offered each month, students are still hungry for new options, Conklin says.
“Students want things that are different. They want variety and they want great food,” he says.
Conklin served as the first guest chef last year and his cooking met with enthusiastic reviews from students, according to DiGregorio. A Long Island, N.Y. native, Conklin served up the “down-home cooking” that he grew up with, including Manhattan clam chowder, bagels and smoked chicken.
Looking ahead, DiGregorio hopes to expand the program and bring a guest chef to campus each semester.