Culinary Discovery Series helps students break dining routines

MU’s executive chef crafts themed menus for each event, hoping to offer students a fun and educational culinary experience to spark their interest.

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It’s no secret that college is full of pizza, pasta and other easily-microwavable meals, often eaten on the go. The goal of the Culinary Discovery Series, however, is to get students out of this rut and help them discover new recipes and meet others who share culinary interests.

In the Culinary Development Kitchen, located inside Sabai at Johnston Residence Hall, Executive Chef Eric Cartwright and his staff prepare and serve five courses over two hours. Each event in the series has a theme. The Oct. 9 event’s recipes were a highlight of popular foods from past decades.

“The themes are just really cool. It ties it all together and makes it something to look forward to,” Ray Waidmann, MU sophomore and returning diner, said.

As newcomers and regulars alike took their seats, Cartwright greeted them. Taking his place at the preparation area, he dove into the first course: a duo of deviled eggs reminiscent of the 1920s.

As he prepared and plated each concoction, a camera and TV gave the audience a view of his work. He walked students through each step, highlighting the key ingredients, methods and utensils he used to craft each dish. Cartwright even snuck some chemistry into the night, explaining how to thoroughly mix oil into salad dressing and why a pastry puff rises in the oven the way it does.

“We have three goals for the night,” Cartwright said. “One is to teach them something, whatever that may be. Two, for them to make a new friend … three, that they walk away with a full and happy belly. If we do those three things then we feel like we’re doing pretty good.”

The kitchen staff followed this mantra with the remaining four courses. Next came a spin on the classic 1950s tuna casserole topped with seared ahi tuna. Following that was a Caesar salad with homemade dressing. The main dish of the night was a beef Wellington straight out of a 1960s dinner party. Diners finished up with a molten chocolate cake, the effect of a careful process that leaves the inside uncooked.

Between each course, music played and diners socialized with those around them. Many students pulled out their phones to snap pictures of the creative plating. For some students, sharing a meal with others was their favorite aspect of the event.

“After I got here, I met a couple of people at the table and made some friends,” Ashley James, MU sophomore and Culinary Discovery first-timer, said. “It was really good to make some connections and enjoy a nice night.”

Students weren’t the only ones who benefited from the event.

“[I love] getting to share a passion for food with people that appreciate it,” Cartwright said. “It’s more than ‘Hey, here’s a plate of food.’ We start to share experiences.”

These events happen five or six times each semester, and reservations always fill up quickly. The chef’s creations and insight into his culinary work cost students four Block Plan meals, or $14.50 on the Tiger Plan. The next event is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Nov. 14.

Edited by Janae McKenzie | jmckenzie@themaneater.com

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