‘Amazing food, insane prices. It’s a well-kept secret’

  • The flank steak and blue cheese salad served by Marriott Meals in Amherst. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo

  • The flank steak and blue cheese salad served by Marriott Meals in Amherst. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo

  • Students design the centerpieces and physical menu beforehand. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo—

  • Students design the centerpieces and physical menu beforehand. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo—

  • Vegetable quiche, a special appetizer of the day at Marriott Meals at UMass. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Jordan Visconti garnishes flank steak with an orchid in the kitchen at Marriott Meals at UMass, Tuesday, April 16, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Justin Goldschmidt, standing, serves Sue Matysiewicz, left, Melinda Nielsen and Harry Vandoloski at Marriott Meals at UMass, Tuesday, April 16, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Denden Quesnel, an assistant chef instructor, talks to Majel Bourdeau about the preparation of a vegetable medley at Marriott Meals at UMass, Tuesday, April 16, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Instructors Denden Quesnel and Jenafer Andrén-Kazunas prepare Shrimp Scampi and Pasta Salsilcia at Marriott Meals at UMass, Tuesday, April 16, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Catherine Wang leaves the kitchen with risotto bites and onion soup at Marriott Meals at UMass, Tuesday, April 16, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Benjamin Welsby, standing, serves Linda Rotti, left, Aiidan Gibbons and Jane Duffney plates of Dumbledorf Salad and Artichoke Dip at Marriott Meals at UMass. Appetizers at dinner cost $3 each at the student-run restaurant. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Chocolate Decadence, made by teaching assistant Christine Duthie. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Instructors Denden Quesnel and Jenafer Andrén-Kazunas prepare Shrimp Scampi and Pasta Salsilcia at Marriott Meals at UMass. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

@AndyCCastillo
Published: 4/19/2019 4:54:01 PM
Modified: 4/19/2019 4:53:44 PM

The grilled flank steak and blue cheese salad that's served at Marriott Meals, a student-run restaurant at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, is delicious. Packed with fresh cucumber, tomato, red onion, crumbled blue cheese and tender slices of steak, it doesn’t taste like a $7 meal, but it is.

“Amazing food, insane prices. It’s a well-kept secret,” said Zoe Johnson, a senior at the Amherst university who was enjoying dinner there Tuesday with friends Brooke Kleinfeld, also a senior, and Tess Novek, who graduated last year.

Aside from one instructor and two full-time staff members, Marriott Meals is run entirely by students in the Isenberg School of Management’s hospitality and tourism management major, who are taking the restaurant and operations management lab. The chief instructor and Marriott Center operations coordinator is Jenafer Andren-Kazunas. She runs the program with Denden Quesnel, assistant chef-instructor, and Shane Roberts, assistant front-of-house manager. There is also a Marriott Center intern and a few teaching assistants who help out each semester.

As part of the hands-on class, students host lunch and dinner twice a week and are later graded for their performance. Each week, students rotate through different roles from managing the front of house to dishwashing to hosting to prepping food beforehand. The program was started in 2007 by the school’s Marriott Center for Hospitality Management.

“The lab portion of the course at the Marriott Center allows students to have practical experience in restaurant operations, guest service, as well as gain management experience in a controlled environment,” Andren-Kazunas said. “The premise of the course is that a team of students has the opportunity to manage the entire restaurant for a lunch or dinner shift.”

All of the food is prepared in the center’s commercial kitchen under the direction of Andren-Kazunas, who makes the more complex dishes, and plated by students, according to Justin Goldschmidt, a senior who was acting as manager for the lunch crowd along with junior Fay Grzybowski.

“Our motto is ‘your service is our learning,’ ” Goldschmidt said. “Students pretty much run everything. Today, we’re the managers. We get exposed to every part of the service industry.”

For Grzybowski, whose first restaurant job was at a local McDonald’s when she was 15 years old, the class is a way to expand on what she already knows. But for others who might not have as much real-world experience, the program offers hands-on immersion they might not get anywhere else.

“It gives us a lot of room for creativity,” she said. Besides creativity, it’s an opportunity for the students to mess up in a controlled environment.

“The worst mistake I ever made was to add too much cheese to the spinach artichoke dip. But that’s all part of the process. It’s a classroom. We’re learning,” Grzybowski said.

Before opening for lunch or dinner, the students sit through a lesson in hospitality management.

Then they fold napkins, design and print the physical menu, and come up with three special dishes — an appetizer, an entree, and a desert — specific for the meal. They standardize all the recipes for their shift; come up with an ambiance; create staffing plans; and complete a financial analysis afterward, according to Andren-Kazunas. On Tuesday, the lunch starter was a vegetable quiche served in a puff pastry shell, with bacon bits sprinkled over top. The dessert was chocolate mousse cake, and the special entree was the flank steak salad.

Other menu items remain constant: the appetizers, which cost $2.50 for lunch and $3 for dinner, include tortilla soup, artichoke dip, risotto bites and onion soup gratinee; entrees, at $7 for lunch and $8 for dinner, include shrimp scampi, coconut risotto cakes, grilled chicken ceasar salad, and pasta salsiccia; deserts, at $2 for lunch and $3 for dinner, are salted caramel cheesecake, coconut creme brulee, flourless chocolate cake, and fresh cut fruit. The costs are low because patrons only pay for what the food costs. Students are unpaid because it’s a formal university class.

Besides being inexpensive and delicious, the setting is beautiful. Dinner is served on the top floor of the university’s Student Center, overlooking the campus pond and the towering W. E. B. Du Bois Library. It’s a convenient spot for those who work at UMass.

Scott Garman, a professor in the department of biochemistry and molecular biology, says he often takes guest lecturers out to lunch after class. 

“They’re graded on their service, which makes it excellent,” he said. Seated beside him, Lynmarie Thompson, a professor in the department of chemistry, noted “we have a different experience each week. Last week, these were all roses,” she said, pointing to the table’s centerpieces, which this week were pink flowers floating in a glass of water.

For students who aren’t in the hospitality management class like Johnson, Kleinfeld, Novek, the Marriott Meals program is a chance to eat well on a college budget.

“It’s beautiful. I love the food,” said Novek.

“And, I feel fancy,” Kleineld added.

Andy Castillo can be reached at acastillo@gazettenet.com.

How to connect

Marriott Meals serves lunch to the public between 11:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and from 5:45 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. for dinner weekly on the same two days when school is in session, from February through April. Meals can be purchased either separately or in a bundle, $11 for lunch or $13 for dinner. The last two days this semester will be next week, April 23 and 24. Marriott Meals will resume Tuesday, Sept. 17. Information regarding dates, menus and reservation information can be found posted at the beginning of each semester at isenberg.umass.edu/htm/meals

Pasta Salciccia from Marriott Meals

2 tablespoons olive oil

½ cup Spanish or yellow onion, minced

1 pound Italian sweet sausage (casing removed)

6 ounces tomato paste

1 cup water

1 pint heavy cream

1 pound penne pasta (or, preferred style of pasta)

8 ounces parmesan cheese, divided

½ cup fresh basil, chopped

½ cup fresh parsley, chopped

1. Precook pasta, cool, and reserve. 2. Heat a large stockpot or rondeau on medium-high heat. Add olive oil. Add onion, and cook until tender. 3. Add sausage, and fry until thoroughly cooked, breaking meat into small pieces. 4. Add tomato paste and water; lower heat and let simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. 5. Stir in heavy cream and half of the parmesan cheese. Cook on medium-low heat for 3-5 minutes until the sauce reduces slightly and thickens, stirring frequently. 6. Add pasta and mix into thoroughly. Stir in herbs. Garnish with the remaining parmesan cheese. Serves 4 to 6.




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