There are very few places in the world where one can encounter a true Renaissance man — director of New York plays, future residential college seminar professor expounding on the semiotics of dating, and, most importantly, a purveyor of perfect Beef Wellington. Kit Sanderson, an associate fellow at Calhoun College, said his aim in starting “Calhoun Cooks!”, a series of cooking classes in the residential college, was to create a new crop of Renaissance men and women, equipped with a rousing roux for future culinary endeavors (for those not yet initiated into the club du cuisine, a roux is the basis for a multitude of sinful French sauces).
“We had noticed a pattern of kids saying, ‘Oh my god, I’ve been a huge achiever, I’m 21, and I don’t know how to cook,'” Sanderson said.
Conceived last year after Sanderson heard a group of seniors describing their steady diet of frozen food, “Calhoun Cooks!” was originally designed as a crash course for those “looking down the barrel to graduation.” But this year’s incarnation was thrown open to everyone in the college, and the student response has left Sanderson’s mailbox overflowing like a pot of boiling pasta water. The current number of students stands at 62, with more e-mails arriving every day.
“I just really want to learn how not to burn food,” said Mark Schwab ’09, revealing a brutally honest tidbit from his charred past.
The class will focus on what Sanderson calls the basic principles of cooking good food: Use fresh ingredients, do not overcook, keep it simple and strive for a harmony of flavors.
In addition, he will impart the knowledge he acquired from his years learning to cook from his mother, a Cordon-Bleu-trained French chef, and his own experience cooking in Paris, eventually working his way up to sous-chef at a reputable French continental restaurant. Without revealing too many of the gastronomic guru’s secrets, classes will include everything from lessons on “how not to be afraid of a knife” to the components of a “kitchen nucleus” and even to Sanderson’s “yes, you should wear an apron in the kitchen” spiel. As Sanderson himself says, “It’s all about being comfortable with food.”
Sanderson said the best part of the class will be his inclusion of recipes that are both “everyday” and “fun.” He cited a class last year where he lectured on how to buy chicken wings in bulk, butcher them and smother them in a multitude of silky sauces. Voila: a down-and-dirty appetizer.
And for those insidious mothers who wonder why their children are baking souffles rather than studying?
“Prayer, meditation, running: These are all on the same list with cooking as things that seem to take time, but if you take the time to do them, they optimize the rest of your time,” Sanderson said.
Sanderson also said having a knowledge of food even helps students make better choices in the dining hall on nights when papers must come before polenta.
“If you cook, you have more of a consciousness of food,” he said.
And Yalies have indeed shown that they’re conscious of food in some regard — hundreds of students queue every day at the Alice Waters-infused Berkeley Dining Hall, and huge numbers signed a petition in favor of sustainable food, which for most was a vote in favor of food that tastes better.
Sanderson hopes this enthusiasm will extend beyond wolfing down YSFP lamb-and-feta patties and inspire people to learn to cook healthy, affordable and delectable dishes for themselves.
“My theory is that axe murderers don’t cook,” Sanderson said. “The kitchen should be the acme of a happy life.”
And for those who spent last Tuesday night cuddled up with a pint of Ben and Jerry’s, Sanderson offers another incentive to whip up a meringue.
“We need to correct some horrible sexism,” Sanderson said, referring to 1950s housewife stereotypes. “The way to anybody’s heart is through the stomach.”