Billy Kardys, lead chef for the University of Colorado at Boulder's Piazanos café, says the 2,000 students who visit the café daily won't have sea bass on the menu anytime soon, but a bass dish he created garnered him first prize in a regional culinary challenge for campus chefs.
Kardys won the National Association of College and University Food Services' regional challenge in early April, and will represent CU-Boulder at the organization's national conference in Washington, D.C., in July when he will compete against chefs from colleges and universities from around the nation. CU-Boulder chefs have won the regional challenge three out of the past four years.
"This was an amazing challenge, it was one of the hardest things I've done in my cooking career," said Kardys, who completed his culinary training at Paul Smith's College in Paul Smiths, N.Y., in 1998, and had additional training at the New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, Vt.
Each of the participating chefs began with plain sea bass and then were left to their own devices to create a dish for the challenge. Kardys had an hour to prepare his dish for the judges.
Kardys won the judges over with sea bass gremolata - an herb-base condiment made of garlic, parsley and lemon peel - over saffron seafood risotto. He served honey-poached carrots with parsnips in a champagne sauce with grapes as a side dish. He will prepare the same dish at the nationals, although he is allowed to make some minor adjustments.
For his day job, Kardys is the lead chef for Piazanos café, an Italian-style eatery that opened in 2006 in the Cheyenne Arapahoe Hall. In addition to traditional dining halls, seven CU-Boulder residence halls also have cafés and "grab-n-gos" such as Piazanos that offer students fresh, convenient food to grab on the go.
The fast-paced lives of today's students have changed many things from the classes and recreation opportunities they demand to the food they eat, according to Juergen Friese, coordinator for facilities in the Housing and Dining Services department.
"Our students absolutely love this option because they can take it with them, and it is genuinely good, healthy food," said Friese.
Kardys and his team of student and professional cooks and chefs prepare all the foods on site, putting out fresh selections throughout the day. The ingredients used for the shop's entrees are about 80 percent organic, while all the produce is organic, he said.
Some recent selections included honey-poached peach salad with roasted cashews, blueberry pecan salad and a different lasagna every Tuesday including chicken Florentine, regular ground beef and veggie lasagna.
"These are entrees that you would easily pay $10 to $12 for in a restaurant, and here they are part of the meal plan," Friese said.
CU-Boulder's Housing and Dining Services also received two other recent honors. Sewall Hall's $6.5 million kitchen and dining hall renovation completed in summer 2007 will be featured as a Building of America project in the upcoming "Real Estate and Construction Review - 2009 Colorado Edition." Sewall Hall was chosen from hundreds of nominated projects to be featured in an article highlighting how the project's developer, consultants, architects and contractors worked together to complete the unique project.
The National Association of College and University Food Services honored Norlin Underground, a small café on the first floor of Norlin Library, with its "Best in Business" award for campus convenience stores that are "making the most of limited space."
Visit housing.colorado.edu/dining/index.cfm for more information about dining at CU-Boulder.