From muhammara dip infused with pomegranate, walnut and roasted pepper to chiffonade collard greens drizzled with a pecan, lime and serrano vinaigrette, the latest installment of Yale Hospitality’s “Food Conversation Series” last Wednesday treated undergraduates, faculty members and staff to a plant-centered culinary and meditative experience led by celebrity chef and restaurateur Elizabeth Falkner and Brooklyn-based yoga therapist Ariel Kiley.

Advertised as a night of “mindfulness and meditation,” the event featured a discussion panel with Falkner, who crafted a menu with principles of health and wellness in mind. Dining at Yale on York, a temporary events space created for large gatherings while Commons in the Schwarzman Center undergoes a three-year renovation, attendees engaged in tabletop dialogue as they sampled blackened eggplant hummus scented with cumin and Aleppo peppers. Between courses, Kiley guided the diners through physical exercises and meditation techniques.

“We were able to dine like royalty in Yale’s new event space, eat great food that emphasized plant-focused diets and share in conversations that are too frequently overlooked, like the importance of how we fuel and care for our bodies,” said Yale College Council Representative Hope Newberry ’20.

The dinner was organized by Yale Hospitality, with council members helping to coordinate day-of operations. Seats were offered to the first 180 Yale College students to register. Like other culinary initiatives, the guest chef series often generates more interest from students than Yale Hospitality can accommodate.

As a pioneer in the culinary arts, Falkner has been recognized by the James Beard Foundation for her pastry work. She has also appeared as a contestant in Food Network’s “Iron Chef America” and “Next Iron Chef: Super Chefs” among other culinary competitions and as a judge on Bravo’s “Top Chef.”

“Staying active, eating well, working hard and honoring my body have always been paramount to my well-being and ultimately my success,” Falkner said to the audience.

According to Director of Yale Dining Operations, Robert Sullivan, Yale Hospitality first introduced the “Food Conversation Series” last year, as part of an effort to explore ideas for the new Schwarzman Center. The initiative brings nationally recognized chefs to campus to discuss the intersection of food, stress and productivity.

According to Yale Hospitality Wellness Manager Allison Arnett, funding for the conversation series and similar initiatives comes from “partnerships with key stakeholders, industry support and special fundraisers such as the recent Commons auction.”

“Anxieties of various sort, stress and chaos have become aspects of everyday life,” Arnett said. “Food has always played a role in creating comfort.”

Across the 14 residential college dining halls and various campus cafes, Yale Hospitality offers more than 35 plant-based protein options each week and a minimum of 150 vegetarian and vegan options as well.

The next guest chef dinner will take place on Feb. 22 with Barton Seaver, current director of the Sustainable Seafood and Health Initiative at the Harvard Chan School of Public Health’s Center for Health and the Global Environment. Seaver is also a National Geographic fellow and in 2012 was nominated to the U.S. Culinary Ambassador Corp by then–Secretary of State Hillary Clinton LAW ’73.

Julianna Lai |