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Penn State dining commons chefs break up routine with ‘Toasting the Competition’

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Waring Commons' bakery on Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021. Waring Commons is located inside West Residence Halls. 

Starting on the first day of November, Penn State managing chefs from each dining hall across campus toasted to a new month — literally, with a toast competition.

Organized by Penn State Campus Dining, “Toasting the Competition” allowed these chefs to put their own unique spin on toast.

Managing Chef at North Hall’s Warnock Commons Jeff Varcoe said competitions were created to keep the menus at each location feeling “fresh.”

“Every year, and actually every semester, we talk about different events to try and break up our service. We normally serve a three-week cycle menu,” Varcoe said. “We know that our students [and] guests start to maybe get a little tired of the same thing every three weeks. So we like to try to do pop-up events, special dinners and pepper those throughout the semester.”

Penn State Campus Dining set up a poll on social media, allowing customers to vote for their favorite recipe.

Despite the title and poll, Managing Chef of Pollock’s Nittany Lion Training Table Jason Kroboth said he saw the event as a “fun gesture” to “get the kids to see what [the chefs] are about.”

“To me, I think it's more of a friendly competition amongst us, just to kind of see what we have to offer the kids,” Kroboth said. “[It’s] something a little bit different. You know, it's a fun kind of competition.”

Varcoe said Penn State Dining and the managing chefs look at what trending foods are on the horizon when creating their events.

“So when we're doing these types of events, we often look to trends and things that we know are interesting and new on the food scene,” Varcoe said. “So with avocado toast being so huge right now, those interesting different toasts are also kind of growing as a trend right now. We thought that would be a fun thing for us to work with as chefs and to give our students something different.”

Each of the chefs pulled from a variety of influences to create toasts that are unique and new to students.

Managing Chef at Redifer Commons Stephan Gawlowicz said his toast was a mix of French and Spanish influences.

“I chose this recipe with some of my background influence since I was born and raised and fed in France,” Gawlowicz said. “Also I put some Spanish influence there. I wanted to duplicate something like tapas.”

Gawlowicz chose a multigrain toast from the Penn State Bakery as the foundation for his toast.

“So the cheese was kind of a camembert type, very close to [authentic camembert]. So that was the French influence,” Gawlowicz said. “The Spanish influence was more with the tomatoes and the toasted jamon. In Italy, they call it prosciutto. In Spain, they call it jamon serrano.”

Kroboth said his toast was a spinoff of rarebit, a “classic English dish.”

“I had a toasted brown Irish soda bread that came from the Penn State Bakery. So I buttered and toasted that,” Kroboth said. “Then I [made] a Guinness cheddar beer sauce, and then I roasted off [bratwurst] with some Guinness beer… then it was just sliced green onions [that were left to add]. Everybody likes beer and sausages.”


Kroboth said his inspiration for basing his toast off of an English dish was out of need to serve students something “unique.”

“I wanted to go through the current recipes that [we] had and pick something that was different,” Kroboth said. “[Something] that wasn't avocado toast or something basic that I think the kids have probably seen many times.”

Varcoe said his toast was inspired by a sandwich recipe Elvis Presley made famous, saying “It's got that fun element that, ‘Elvis used to eat this.’ So I decided to run with that.”

“It's bread, peanut butter, bananas, honey and bacon,” Varcoe said. “And not to mention, bacon on everything is a hot trend as well. So I like to get into some of those things.”

Citing the coronavirus pandemic, Varcoe said he wanted to capitalize on “comfort food.”

Debuting his rarebit toast on Nov. 4, Kroboth said he noticed a “good reaction” from the students.

“The kids really liked it. You always know you're doing well when people come up and get a second piece,” Kroboth said. “So I think we did really well. In my mind, I don't care really if I win or lose. I know that the people that [ate] it liked it.”

Despite being unable to speak with students at the time of his toast’s debut, Gawlowicz also said he believed his toast was a success.

“The only thing I could see [was] that people were coming back and took it twice,” Gawlowicz said. “I sold out after an hour and a half of service. So I had 200 portions, and we started at 11. I sold out by 12:30 p.m.”

Gawlowicz also said the popularity of the toast allowed Redifer Commons to “avoid [making] any waste.”

Varcoe said he found the competition and seeing the reactions of students to be “a lot of fun.”

“There [were] definitely a lot of surprised faces as [students] tasted it,” Varcoe said. “I had whole pieces of toast out for people who were ready to take on the full experience, but I had also taken some of the pieces of toast and cut them into little bite-sized pieces. A lot of people would just come up and just give it a taste and be like, ‘Oh, that was good.’”

Stating his first and foremost goal was to “please the customer” as opposed to competing, Gawlowicz said he was happy about how the event went.

“All the customers were happy and glad to have something new and different on the line,” Gawlowicz said. “When I saw people coming back to get a second plating, for me, it was the best reward.”

Kroboth said the event was a great experience, which allowed him to meet a lot of new people, and it called some more attention to the managing chefs across campus.

“Chefs are always in the back and are always kind of hidden,” Kroboth said. “And we don't get out as often as we'd like.”

However, Kroboth said this is because the chefs can make sure “everything's good and tasty” and “exactly what the guests are looking for.”

“It's good to get out and see people and have people meet us,” he said. “So hopefully they come back, and they can enjoy everything else at Pollock — and we'll do more of these.”


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