Haute dining hall cuisine?

Look down at your dining hall tray. Does it contain one of the following items: a chicken cordon bleu sandwich, ground beef and green bean casserole or seafood salad? If so, you should be ashamed. But don’t despair, dear reader, there is hope for your lunch yet.

Tired of eating the same minimally appetizing food day in and day out, students have long been perfecting their own twist on dining hall cuisine. Utilizing only a microwave, a toaster or a George Foreman Grill and the ingredients readily available in the majority of dining halls, it is possible to create a meal that, while not haute cuisine, is at least freshly prepared. And, unlike fusion food or Nuevo Latino cuisine, this is one food trend that is here to stay.

First, let’s review the basics. There are a few easy tricks that make it easy to prepare a custom-made meal in a Yale dining hall. Put some olive oil and balsamic vinegar on a plate, grab a hunk of bread and imagine yourself in an Italian trattoria. Or, if you want to get really fancy, throw some Rice Krispies (or Cocoa Krispies if you’re in a luxurious mood) in a cup with mini-marshmallows and butter, microwave, and consume the whole yummy, gooey mess. Unless you’re willing to risk the wrath of the dining hall workers, make sure the cup is paper and the spoon is plastic. It’ll take only 20 seconds and a microwave to soften those rock-hard bricks into a palatable treat.

Sandwiches are another area where the burgeoning chef can really let the creative juices flow. The main things to remember here are diversity and integration.

Sandwich-makers unite! Break out of the confines of the deli bar! Add items from the hot food line to your sandwich and create a whole new masterpiece. For example, start with your normal turkey sandwich. Add some hot veggies (green beans or zucchini will do), some marinara sauce, and Parmesan cheese and you’re golden. Oh, and no microwaving — it’ll make the bread soggy. Or take that same basic turkey sandwich and add some fruit — yes, fruit — like slices of pear or green apple. Then cap it off with a little mustard: you now have the No. 2 from G-Heav and are $9 richer.

College is about experimentation — you know, like with your George Foreman Grill. Austin Kilaru ’07 tried making a four-cheese grilled cheese but it was “absolutely terrible.” No love lost, Kilaru said he and his friends still try out new recipes.

“When [Saybrook] got that George Foreman Grill, life changed for a lot of people,” Kilaru said.

Life could change for you, too. From the classic tuna melt to the more complex (but still doable) chicken parmesan, the grill represents a world of sandwich possibilities. But in the words of Taco Bell, to really take advantage of good ol’ George, you have to “think outside the bun.”

For one, the grill lends itself to making quesadillas. Just grab a tortilla, some cheese, maybe some chicken, sour cream from the condiments and jalape–os from the deli bar and you’re good to go. But if you’re really into thinking outside the bun, head over to the salad bar. Dan Berman ’05 said instead of putting a sandwich on the grill, he sometimes mixes red pepper strips or mushroom slices with a little olive oil, salt and pepper.

“I’ve actually had good experiences George Foreman-ing the vegetables they have,” Berman said.

While Berman created a new verb to describe his cooking experiences in the JE dining hall, students in Davenport created a book to describe theirs. Called “The Naked Gnome,” this quasi-cookbook is a compilation of students’ dining hall recipes as well as recipes from the 1992 cookbook “Tray Gourmet: Be Your Own Chef in the College Cafeteria,” by Larry Berger ’90, Lynn Harris ’90 and Chris Kalb ’90.

The idea for the book arose at a Davenport Dining Committee meeting about a year ago, dining hall manager Jim Moule said, and was implemented this fall by committee member Teya Kelley ’05. Kelley solicited recipes from her fellow D-Porters both through e-mail and in person to create what is now an impressive resource for those students dreading another day of shepherd’s pie and recycled chana masala.

For those of you wondering about the title, the “gnome” is Davenport’s mascot and he’s “naked” in homage to the now-famous British television chef Jamie Oliver. One recently featured recipe for cinnamon toast was submitted by Grace Silvia ’05. Such relatively simple recipes can really help expand a Yale diner’s options, Silvia said.

Some students have been even more enterprising than Silvia. Citing a failed attempt to make an apple crisp, Kilaru explained that one day, while he and his friend were lamenting the lack of desserts in the Saybrook dining hall, inspiration struck.

After making a “huge mess,” Kilaru and his co-chef toasted their bowls of apple crisp and dug in. By all accounts, it was disgusting. Kilaru said he attributed the failure of the attempt to a lack of sugar and saran wrap, not skill. He said he was not discouraged and that his friend was going to obtain his mother’s recipe for microwave apple crisp which they hoped to one day duplicate.

Sometimes, though, the dining hall can help in unexpected ways. Last fall, Berman and a friend wanted to prepare a meal at another friend’s house. Ever the enterprising Yale students, they did everything possible to minimize costs. Conveniently, the Yale dining hall’s fall decorations happened to be an array of pumpkins and squashes, one of which would be perfect for an autumnal pumpkin soup.

“We’re obviously trying to be resourceful here,” Berman said. “It would perhaps not be the orthodox choice to consume the pumpkins there for decoration, but at the same time we decide that whatever food is there is fair game.”

But the dining hall microwave is as far as most Yalies will ever go. For inventive cooks, that is enough. While they may not have their own recipes, Silvia said some of her friends were becoming adept at creating their own dishes. One friend, she said, frequently makes his own garlic bread.

“It looked like something you might order in a restaurant,” Silvia said. “But made out of dining hall food.”

Cafe Adulis
Stephanie Dziczek
Cafe Adulis

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