On September 21, New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station (NJAES) and the Rutgers University Programming Association (RUPA) hosted “Tossed,” a cooking competition held as a part of the annual Party at the Puddle welcome-back event. Students gathered at the famous Passion Puddle on Lipman Drive for food, a movie night, and to watch the exciting “Tossed” cooking competition.
The student competitors of “Tossed” were tasked with preparing a gourmet salad using mystery ingredients provided by Rutgers NJAES research farms and the Food Innovation Center in under 30 minutes. The mystery baskets included tomatoes from the Rutgers Gardens Student Farm, hazelnuts from the Molnar lab, honey from Chelsea Abegg’s pollinator research, the Impossible Whopper commercialized at the Rutgers Food Innovation Center, and baby bella mushrooms as a nod to The Super Mario Bros. Movie playing that night at the event. The student contestants were also given access to a pantry that included specialty food items donated by the Atalanta Corporation, such as oils, vinegars, mustards, and cheeses, among other items.
The student contestants’ salads were then judged by a panel of acclaimed culinary and food industry experts:
- Master Chef Thomas Griffiths, Senior Vice President for Research and Development with Simply Good Jars, Culinary Advisor to the Rutgers Food Innovation Center, Hospitality Advisor Council member to Helms College, and a member of the Big Green Egg Culinary. Griffiths is passionate about helping companies prepare delicious and wholesome products to nourish people and the planet.
- Chef Junnie Lai of Global Cuisine Consulting, a culinary services company specializing in recipe development and commercialization as well as supply chain support, management over the strategic product launch process, and relationship building. Lai also holds international recognition for innovation and product development achievements in food applications.
- Chef Stephen Wilson, Senior Area Sales Manager from the Atalanta Corporation. Wilson is a Culinary Institute of America-trained chef with over fifteen years of experience growing and leading best-in-class teams delivering extraordinary innovative food and customer service.
- Chef Nolan Lewin, Executive Director of the Rutgers Food Innovation Center, where he is responsible for oversight of manufacturing operations, ensuring that the production of products meets all regulatory requirements, and the facilities are maintained to meet USDA standards. Lewin was on the pilot of the Food Network show “Chopped” and operates a food truck with his wife.
- Executive Dean Laura Lawson, the Executive Director of the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, and the Executive Dean of the Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences. Dean Lawson is also a Professor of Landscape Architecture and is well-regarded for her scholarship on urban agriculture, community gardens, neighborhood open space, and participatory design.
The winners of “Tossed” were Haley Yun and Rudra Gohil of the Food Science Undergraduate Club, a Rutgers organization for students interested in pursuing food science. Gohil and Yun also major in food science and will graduate in 2024. Their winning salad consisted of massaged kale, marinated mushrooms, and Impossible Whopper “meat” with a dressing that consisted of red wine vinegar, olive oil, honey, and herbs. The pair also marinated bell peppers, used grilled artichokes, and garnished the salad with chopped hazelnuts and cherry tomatoes.
While the competition occurred, speakers from the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station (NJAES) provided information about their programs to the crowd observing the exciting competition. Speakers included Stacy Onofrietti from Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Middlesex County and an Expanded Food and Nutrition program educator; Dan Jacobs, a Ph.D. student from the Molnar lab; Chelsea Abegg, a Soils and Plant Technician based out of the Rutgers Specialty Crop Research and Extension Center; Nolan Lewin, Executive Director of the Rutgers Food Innovation Center; and Peggy Brennan-Tonetta, Director of Resource and Economic Development and Senior Associate Director of NJAES.
The ”Tossed” competition represents the strength of the research and extension community at NJAES and the School of Environmental and Biological Science (SEBS); students, faculty, researchers, and industry experts came together to host an event that highlighted the importance of their work, research, and extension programs in food science and agriculture, provided Rutgers students with the opportunity to engage in a friendly and educational competition, and emphasized the university’s mission of giving back to the community through the cultivation and donation of Rutgers-grown produce. The Rutgers Gardens Student Farm not only grew the tomatoes used in the competition as a mystery ingredient, they provided freshly harvested lettuces, carrots, chard, green beans, kale, onions, peppers, cabbages, radishes, turnips, and herbs. In addition to student-led cultivation, the farm donates about half of its produce to the Rutgers Food Pantry.
Events like the “Tossed” competition embody the significance of NJAES research and extension and its importance to the community. Amy Mandelbaum, Senior Program Administrator of the Office of Resource and Economic Development at NJAES, said, “Just like a salad is made up of different components, the NJAES is a great mixture of people and places where innovative research, extension, and education programs come together to meet the needs of the state. “Tossed” was a fun way to engage the Rutgers community in all the great things being done at the Station.”
This article was written by OPOC intern Emily Ranieri.