PACES Team Takes Bronze Medal at SUNY Culinary Summit

SUNY Potsdam Dining Services Chefs Compete in Culinary Challenge at Conference

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The PACES Dining Services team representing SUNY Potsdam at the SUNY Culinary Summit included, from left: Amy Hazen, John VanKennen, Melanie Rogers and Joel Brown.

POTSDAM, NY (07/07/2017) (readMedia)-- SUNY Potsdam was represented by four PACES Dining Service managers at the SUNY Culinary Summit competition held on the University at Buffalo campus in June.

The team of four dedicated chefs from Potsdam Auxiliary and College Educational Services took home the bronze medal for their performance at the event.

The PACES crew included team captain John VanKennen (manager of Thatcher Kitchen), joined by team members Amy Hazen (manager of Bowman Kitchen/Commissary), Melanie Rogers (assistant manager of the Student Union Dining Court) and Joel Brown (manager of Becky's Place and Tim Hortons).

The competition, sanctioned by the American Culinary Federation, was part of the first annual SUNY Culinary Summit conference. The SUNY Auxiliary Service Association identified the need for a gathering of chefs and cooks, to meet the growing demand for a culinary experience on SUNY campuses. PACES Executive Chef Amy Conger was highly involved in the conception of the first-ever conference as a member of the planning committee.

The SUNY Culinary Summit featured guest speakers, discussions, hands-on interest sessions and an exciting competition featuring six SUNY teams.

Each team was given three hours to prepare and serve a four-course meal with ingredients from a "mystery market basket." The menu could consist of appetizer, soup, salad, entrée and/or dessert. Teams were judged on sanitation/food handling, cooking techniques and execution, proper use of ingredients, work flow, presentation, portion and nutritional balance, creativity, and flavor, taste and texture of the finished meal.

One of the best parts of the experience, according to Amy Hazen, who has worked for PACES for 28 years, but had never competed in a culinary challenge before, was the way the team "just came together," she said.

"Every member stepped in. The flow was great, and we had laughs, but we took it seriously. John VanKennen is the only member of our team who has certified culinary training, so I was a little nervous to compete. I didn't want to let my teammates or PACES down," Hazen said. "It was an awesome experience, and I feel we all learned a lot -- about cooking and each other."

Joel Brown has worked for PACES for 15 years and is a graduate of the BOCES Culinary Program. He appreciated the opportunity to compete, as well as to learn techniques for preparing Italian and Indian cuisine firsthand from master chefs during the summit.

"The summit as a whole was an amazing experience," Brown said. "I learned skills from trained chefs at the conference that I have implemented at Becky's Place. My wife is happy too, because I am practicing them at home!"

Conger also led a session at the conference along with SUNY Potsdam biology faculty member Ray Bowdish, discussing how to integrate local produce into volume food service. The SUNY Potsdam Department of Biology collaborates with PACES to produce microgreens for use in campus dining in the WISER Greenhouse.

About PACES:

Potsdam Auxiliary and College Educational Services, Inc. (PACES) is a not-for-profit corporation operating under contract with SUNY Potsdam. The mission of PACES is to offer high quality products and services while maximizing customer value and financial return, to the benefit of the larger SUNY Potsdam community. PACES Dining Services has been rated the No. 1 Dining Service in the SUNY System in the Student Opinion Survey twice in a row. For more information, visit

About SUNY Potsdam:

Founded in 1816, The State University of New York at Potsdam is one of America's first 50 colleges -- and the oldest institution within SUNY. Now in its third century, SUNY Potsdam is distinguished by a legacy of pioneering programs and educational excellence. The College currently enrolls approximately 4,000 undergraduate and graduate students. Home to the world-renowned Crane School of Music, SUNY Potsdam is known for its challenging liberal arts and sciences core, distinction in teacher training and culture of creativity. To learn more, visit