Interview with Chef de Cuisine, Bob Bankert

As UMass Dining sources from more local meat farms, our staff has increased its ability to butcher on site. While processing meat on site requires more time and labor, it also allows the chefs to get the cuts they need to be creative with their dishes. 
For example, Hampshire Dining Commons grinds its own beef, sourced from PT Farm in Haverhill, NH, which allows the kitchen to create a burger blended with mushrooms. The result of that flexibility is a healthier, more flavorful, and cost-effective burger. 
While this is a challenging project to undertake, the results will benefit the region with an improved distribution network, more vibrant agricultural sector, and more secure food supply. 
Here is what our Chef de Cuisine of Residential Dining, Bob Bankert has to say about the butchering process! 
Q: How is the butchering process different for local sources of meat compared to larger companies we source from? 
Sourcing local meat means we know where our product is coming from. When sourcing from larger companies, we know nothing about the meat, the animal, where it was grown, how it was treated, etc. 
Overall, the process would be the same whether it’s local or not, however the cooks / butchers respect the meat more when they know that they are dealing with local, higher quality meat. 
We also have to deal with supply issues when using local sources. From larger companies, anything is available at any time. With local sources, there can be gaps in supply. 

Meat being prepped in Hampshire DC’s meat processing room. 

Q: What sort of flexibility does butchering ourselves provide when creating the kind of high quality meals we strive for at UMass? 
Doing the butchering ourselves challenges us to use 100% of the product that we receive. For example, when we bring in a whole pig- there’s bones, a head, trotters, trim meat, and much more that needs to be utilized. 
Being creative with the cuts and using them in a variety of ways is challenging, but it’s a good challenge. We get to learn along the way, and force ourselves to be creative. This is very different than just ordering pork loin from a larger company; it comes in cleaned and ready to cook, and there’s only so much that we can do with it. 

Q: What’s one or two challenges you’ve faced in having a more-labor intensive process with meat? 
One of the main challenges is learning as we go. Setting up the meat room, researching the equipment, building relationships with local suppliers, and figuring out what we need to produce on a daily basis. Now that we’ve gotten into a routine, we are more efficient which cuts down on labor and food costs. 
Another challenge is keeping up with the supply. Hampshire is a busy dining common, with sporadic spikes in business. Setting up pars on what we need on a daily & weekly basis has been key. Since we only get our order in from PT Farms once a week on Thursdays, we need to make sure we bring in enough to properly grind our meat and form the burgers (this is a full 2 day process to produce enough). Again, now that we’ve set up the standards and pars, we are more efficient and we know what we need to produce. 
Thank you to Bob Bankert, Chef de Cuisine at UMass Dining. He oversees all culinary operations at both Hampshire and Berkshire Dining Commons and takes pride in keeping menus fresh and in season. 
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