Plate after plate of luscious chocolate ginger cakes and succulent salmon gravlax was seductively lined up along the bar. Glowing lemon creme tarts were an arm’s stretch away, but for a small group of hungry Yalies at the restaurant Zinc one lazy Saturday afternoon, the main attraction wasn’t food, it was drink. Tea, that is.
The group responsible for this cornucopia to end all cornucopias was the esoterically named Epicurean Society. Members wine and dine at local restaurants and learn how to whip up meals through live cooking lessons with area chefs. Last weekend, they gathered at Zinc for an afternoon of tea tasting.
Tomislav Podreka, an expert tea purveyor, was in the students’ midst, and as he turned the bar into his lectern, talking tea for more than an hour, the campus epicureans slurped and pondered the sample of international teas with names like Buddhist Finger. A hint of honey, yes. And papaya, definitely papaya.
Between sips, a student asked about the so-called stress relieving teas on the market.
“You know what’s stress relief?” Podreka said. “Stop for five minutes.”
Immediately, the 10 or so students in attendance laughed, nodding in understanding. The Epicurean Society appeals to another point of agreement, one of man’s more base instincts: the need for good food.
The name of the group stems from the father of the ancient Greek Epicurean philosophical movement, Epicurus, who preached all pleasure and no pain as a way of life.
“A lot of people think we’re stuffy,” co-founder Melissa Lau ’02 said Monday with a berry smoothie from Claire’s on hand. “Food is a very democratic kind of thing. Everyone has to eat. What you eat is your decision.”
Lau and Ramey Ko ’02 together founded the Epicurean Society last spring. Lau said she felt the need to create new ways to bring people together and enjoy themselves while taming their taste buds.
After some months of planning, the group has been picking up speed this academic year.
With the promise of tasty food, the Epicurean Society has a wide fan base. The group’s e-mail list now boasts almost 400 people, including undergraduate and graduate students and faculty.
Members receive e-mail updates each week announcing events, which also include special lectures on food and drink and weekly trips to a nearby soup kitchen. While some events are free, most can cost anywhere from five to 20 dollars depending on the venue and the size of the meal. Lau said the group is trying to reduce the cost of outings to fit the budget of college students.
The Epicureans have shared meals at local restaurants like Whimsels and Union League Cafe, and will even travel this spring to a renowned restaurant in Wellesley, Mass.
Ko said the rushed Yale lifestyle means that the Epicurean Society is even more necessary.
“We almost think of mealtime as a hassle. It’s kind of a pain in the butt to put down what we’re doing,” Ko said. “I hate the fact that we think that way.”
The group invited classics professor Veronika Grimm earlier this year to lecture on ancient Greek and Roman food.
Grimm agreed that leisurely mealtimes should be an integral part of the day.
“Food is one of the basic pleasures of life, and if you learn what is good and what is not good, you can put a kind of organized social order in your life,” Grimm said. “Food is a kind of social glue.”
Lau said she understands how the group’s emphasis on gourmet eating may seem to be a bit decadent. In an effort to counter the group’s indulgent side, the Epicurean Society goes to a local soup kitchen once a week to cook and serve food. Lau likened the experience to “Ready–Set–Cook!,” the Food Network show in which contestants must create a meal with whatever ingredients are available to them in a stranger’s kitchen.
Lau recalled when she and some friends served up Chinese food and surprised the homeless.
“When we made the fried rice, they were like, ‘What is this?’ It was really exotic,” Lau said.
Upcoming events for the group include a wine and cheese tasting this weekend, weekly cooking sessions in the Jonathan Edwards College kitchen and viewings of Iron Chef, the popular Food Network show.
“It helps pull you out of the monotony of the daily routine,” Lau said. “We’re not here to make anyone the next Jacques Pepin.”