Dining hall food is seldom compared favorably with specialty restaurants like Philip’s Crab House in Maryland.
But on Thursday Oct. 25, Yale University Dining Services will try to change that in at least one specific way — importing crab cakes from Philip’s Crab House.
That effort is part of Yale’s first campuswide theme meal, entitled “Whistle Stop Tour.”
The train-themed meal will feature food from four regions of the United States –the Pacific Northwest, the Great Plains, the Mississippi Delta and the Chesapeake Bay. In addition to the crab cakes, the meal will feature foods like hush puppies, mashed potatoes and milk gravy, lentil soup, and salmon.
Unlike past years, in which residential college dining halls vied for prizes awarded for food quality and ambience, this year’s meal will occur in all 12 colleges on the same night.
“We’re hoping this is going to work,” David Davidson, director of Yale University Dining Services, said.
He said the meal is just a trial and that all colleges will have their own theme meals, spaced out over time, in the second semester.
Janet D’Agostino, manager of marketing and communications for Yale University Dining Services, said she feels that this year’s meal will bring the theme dinners back to what they were “previously intended to be” — a way to serve meals not usually in the menu cycle and to have a different dining experience.
The campuswide aspect of the theme meal was spurred on by the numerous events occurring this fall that required extra effort and additional resources, like Parent’s Weekend, the Tercentennial, Thanksgiving and Christmas, Davidson said. The single theme removes the burden of coming up with 12 distinct concepts, one for each dining hall, while still allowing the student planning board and employees at the residential colleges to determine the details of decorating.
It also eliminates the problem of overcrowding that Davidson said sometimes has prevented students from enjoying theme meals in the past.
YUDS considered themes ranging from Russian to the eastern coast of India before the concept of a train uniting different regions of the United States was suggested, Executive Chef John Turenne said.
Turenne and other YUDS employees did research on recipes from all parts of the United States to determine the regions and the particular dishes that they would cooked. Turenne cited chef Paul Prudhomme’s “Louisiana Kitchen” as an example of the highly regarded cookbooks from which YUDS has drawn recipes for the theme dinner.
Turenne said students will be able to experience all four stations on the train’s route in one meal because the portions will be small.
“So people can graze,” Turenne said. “The U.S. is so unique in its culinary regions.”