Spotlight Iowa City: Chef par excellence for the UI


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Barry Greenberg enjoys experimenting on his family.

“When Barry is preparing for a competition, he’ll get the whole family involved in testing out different recipes,” wife Lisa Greenberg said. “We’re almost like judges even before the real judges get to see and try Barry’s dishes. It’s exciting.”

Barry Greenberg originally arrived in Iowa City in 1992 to work for IMU Food Service. In 2008, he became the university’s first-ever executive chef, largely thanks to his rare combination of both culinary and management degrees from Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I.

In addition to raising a 14-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son, the UI employee is responsible for the Burge and Hillcrest Marketplaces’ recipe development, revising the menus to fit popularity and financial feasibility, and staff training. Greenberg also has the distinction of serving as UI President Sally Mason’s personal chef.

“Barry’s not just good at making food,” said Gregory Black, the director of Residential Dining and Greenberg’s boss. “He also knows how to take meals and calculate the budget to serve 500 people.”

In January, he enchanted judges with his Trio of Asian Pork in Des Moines. His menu of pomegranate barbecued St. Louis-style ribs on grilled asparagus slaw, sherry-glazed pork belly with sushi rice cake, and spicy pork dumpling with pork and lemongrass consommé won Greenberg the top “Chef Par Excellence” honor.

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“Doing competitions keeps your creativity flowing,” the chef said, who is trained in continental European cuisine. “Competing keeps you sharp and interested in cooking.”

Black encourages Greenberg’s competitive pursuits. The UI chef’s accolades support the department’s aspiration to reach among the top campus-dining operations in the United States.

According to an Educational Benchmarking Inc., survey, the UI’s University Housing and Dining Department ranks in the top 10 to 15 percent in the country.

“The quality of university dining facilities is now a big draw for prospective [healthier-minded] students … The university is now looking at us as a recruitment and retention tool,” Black said.

Greenberg accompanied his boss to California in January to attend the sixth-annual Worlds of Healthy Flavors conference hosted by the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone and Harvard School of Public Health.

As a result of the health conference, Black and Greenberg are working to transform the Marketplace menus through the residential dining’s new “Smart Choices” program, an initiative to promote better eating habits among students.

“Barry has been working hard to train staff members with new menus and cooking techniques that demand better skills out of our employees,” Black said.

Overall, Greenberg is content with the opportunities and creativity that his position fosters. Eventually, however, the man in the crisp white chef’s uniform envisions running his own restaurant, which he has been molding in his mind for quite some time.

“No one’s done it yet,” Greenberg said about his culinary vision. “The idea has to do with my past culinary traditions.”

Unwilling to divulge much further information, a coy grin broke on his face.

“I have to keep some element of mystery.”

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