Dining services at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst ranks among the top programs in the nation. To extend its reach off campus and compete with local restaurants, Chef de Cuisine Anthony Jung introduced “meal kits”—preassembled dinners that commuters can grab from UMass’ Harvest Fresh Market and heat to finish at home. The meals provide a new revenue stream and strengthen UMass Dining’s brand, says Jung.
Dialing up aroma
“It’s very important that food smells great when reheated,” says Jung. He marinates the meat in teriyaki sauce and fresh ginger to amplify the aromatics, then grills it to add “a tinge of smoke.” For a final boost, the kitchen adds Sriracha or hot pepper flakes to the jasmine rice side.
Dialing down cook time
The beef comes with Chinese broccoli. “We cook the vegetable only 70% of the way, and it cooks to 80% during the cooling-down period prior to packaging,” he says. Once the customer reheats the meal, the vegetables cook to 90%, attaining the best texture and color.
Packaging trial and error
During testing, Jung used compostable packaging, but the food didn’t hold up as well during reheating. The kits now are packed in recyclable, reusable microwave-safe containers with instructions for reheating on each package. UMass Dining also swapped the original labels used on the packaging for stickers that better highlight the food.
UMass Dining currently sells about 200 packaged dinners a day at the Harvest Fresh Market, but the goal is to grow that to 800 units out of three locations, says Jung. Right now, prep work is done in one of the dining commons; in the future, UMass plans to set up a commissary to make the kits, he says.