College dining is a simple affair. Students swipe in, grab a plate and dig into their cheap and easy options. Repeat three times a day, seven days a week. But what if there was a more refined way to dine in college?
Imagine if colleges had long dining tables, a Food-Network-worthy kitchen and chefs that described what they were making and how they were making it. Imagine small plates and expensive food prepared with only the finest ingredients. Imagine an actual five-course meal that doesn’t just consist of you going up for your fifth plate of toasted ravioli.
No need to imagine, because that’s exactly what Chef Joe Moroni does at MU.
Moroni began his culinary journey in 1995 when he enlisted in the U.S. Army. Moroni attended the United States Army Culinary Arts school where he worked his way up the hierarchy to become the working chef in the Chairman’s Dining Room at The Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and the private chef to the director of the National Security Agency at Ft. Meade in Maryland.
After 11 years of military work, Moroni decided to pursue other endeavors. Those endeavors led him to MU, where he is currently the sous-chef for the Student Center. Through Campus Dining Services, Moroni helps host the Culinary Discovery Series.
Every month or so, Campus Dining Services puts on The Culinary Discovery Series. The Discovery Series takes place in the Culinary Development Kitchen, located in Sabai, and gives students the opportunity to eat more refined foods than they’d find at Rollins or Plaza 900. Each night of the series includes a four-to-five-course meal inspired by a theme. Themes this semester have included the American South, Oktoberfest and Kaldi’s Coffee.
“[The series] is a breeding ground for understanding and inclusivity,” Chef Moroni said in an email, “People as a whole will not always agree with ideology, but they can agree with each other on what’s good. The language does not need to be the same to understand a smile after eating something really good.”
The most recent event in the Discovery Series, Winter Is Coming, was based on HBO’s hit television show, Game of Thrones.
“I asked myself, what is relevant in the minds of the millennial college student?” Moroni said. “How can I make an event fun, full of knowledge and engaging? The answer was Game of Thrones.”
Winter Is Coming sold out in 12 minutes, the fastest sell-out for any Culinary Discovery Series event. Moroni, a fan of Game of Thrones, called his five-course meal “the new TV dinner” and hoped that combining pop culture and food would encourage open mindedness.
“[Game of Thrones] illustrates social classes, subjugation of minorities, sexual discrimination and intolerances towards our fellow man,” Moroni said. “Through the high quality of the program we can see our society looking back at us through a mirror … [W]e find ourselves relating to the characters and hopefully identifying biases in our real world lives and changing our negative behaviors.”
MU is no stranger to social inequality. Moroni continued by saying he hoped the “event [would] increase our inclusivity at the university by highlighting negative behavior in a way that gets the result of open mindedness.”
Stephanie Murray, a sophomore health science major at MU, has attended three of the four discovery events put on by Campus Dining Services this year.
“I love them because I get to try foods that I would have never tried without going to these culinary nights,” Murray said. “I like learning about how to prepare the different foods and the history of the foods. Also, the taste of the food keeps me coming back.”
Murray has never seen Game of Thrones, but she said she was able to learn bits about the characters and events that inspired each course. Besides the cultural experience of the Discovery Series, Murray said that the “icing on the cake” of the nights has been the dessert course.
Culinary Discovery nights cost anywhere from two to four meal swipes, which Murray says is worth it for the quality of food you receive. To attend, a student has to reserve one of the 30 seats available through Campus Dining’s website. Students can sign up for email notifications for when registration opens for an upcoming event. While some nights don’t sell out until the day of, others, like Winter Is Coming, sell out shortly after they open.
Game of Thrones isn’t the only series that will inspire an event. Moroni will host a Star Wars-themed event on May the Fourth and is considering a Harry Potter night as well.
After the night is over and all the dishes are being cleaned, Chef Moroni wants to make sure students don’t walk away thinking that certain foods are better than others.
“Food is not pretentious,” Moroni said. “If you love food eat what you want and don’t judge. My guilty pleasure is eating Kraft Mac & Cheese.”
Whether you’re eating a five-course meal in the Culinary Discovery Kitchen or ramen out of Tupperware in your dorm room, Moroni wants students to know that “food is awesome and teaches you things more often than you think.”
“You walk into the dining room at the Culinary Discovery Kitchen and you don’t know what to expect,” Moroni said. “Hopefully you leave with an open mind and a desire to get to know others.”
Edited by Katherine White | firstname.lastname@example.org