Cooking Series Turns Students Into Chefs

The smell of food cooking — a comforting reminder of home and the holidays — permeates the crisp autumn air of Boston College as Thanksgiving approaches.

The amount of effort that goes into making such high-quality food, however, goes unnoticed as hundreds of BC Dining staff quietly go about preparing around 26,000 meals each day to feed the BC community.

Last Friday, UGBC, with the cooperation of BC Dining, hosted its second Cooking Series event in Walsh Function Room, in which students were able to see first-hand what happens behind the scenes in the kitchens of the various dining halls and try their hand at cooking their own Thanksgiving meal.

The event was part of the UGBC’s campaign to advocate further interaction between the students and the employees of the University.

The Cooking Series began in the spring of 2014 as the brainchild of Connor Gray, UGBC coordinator of dining affairs and A&S ’16.

The goal of the Cooking Series was to teach basic cooking skills to interested students and give them a better understanding of the culinary world.

A bigger portion of the budget allocated for student dining initiatives and the success of the first event set the foundation for future installments of Cooking Series.

Nine students cooked alongside Frank Bailey, executive chef of BC Dining, and Tim Fonseca, executive pastry chef, learning the tools of the trade as they sliced, diced, mixed, and mashed different ingredients to create delicious, nutritional meals, such as a cranberry kumquat relish side dish, dried cranberry stuffing for the turkey, and apple crisp for dessert.

Throughout the class, the chefs emphasized the practice of mise en place, a French expression that roughly translates to “everything in its place,” as an important part of the efficiency characteristic of professional kitchens.

The methodology involves organizing, gathering, and preparing all of the ingredients before cooking so that meals can be made quickly and smoothly.

Students prepared dishes ranging from dry-brined Thanksgiving turkey and homemade gravy to mashed potatoes and salads. Then, they presented the dishes as a full dinner in a matter of a few hours.

The students and chefs were able to sit down to enjoy a meal and have an open discussion about the finer details of cooking and the chefs’ shared passion for food.

Both Gray and Bailey agree that cooking is a skill that establishes autonomy and is important for college students to know as they adjust to living on their own.

“I feel that food is an important part of the BC student experience,” Gray said.

“Cooking is an important life skill that I think most of the student body may not have,” he said. “Your quality of life can be improved if you cook your own meals and not rely on the dining hall.”

Gray hopes that his efforts to promote the importance of cooking and food will not only improve the overall student experience at BC, but also educate them about proper nutrition when it comes to preparing their own meals.

Bailey’s exposure to cooking at home and at work introduced him to the culinary industry and pulled him into the culture of food.

Working in kitchens both in America and Europe gave him an appreciation for a more globalized view on cooking.

Bailey was invited to teach cooking classes to interested BC students, and seeing the evolution of the culinary world has only increased his zeal for cooking.

“More students understand food now, and it’s great,” he said, noting increased interest in cooking, with popular TV networks such as Food Network dedicated solely to cuisine.

“I want students to know that they can cook good food for not that much money, and so expand their understanding,” he said, noting that he was looking forward to working with more students in the future.

“Cooking has been my artistic outlet, and I’m able to do it every day in this environment,” Bailey said.

To him, experimenting with food is the best part of cooking, and there is always more to do in the kitchen.

“You can never learn it all,” Bailey said. “All of the different styles of cooking are like different dialects of a language, and [I’m constantly learning about] different food traditions.”

Well-trained, talented cooks come from all over the country to work at BC and share their passion for cooking with Bailey, helping to create a tight-knit community among the staff of dining operations at BC.

Looking toward the future, other student initiatives are in the works between UGBC and BC Dining.

Every Bite Counts (EBC) is a food recovery program in which students package leftover food from each of BC’s main dining halls and deliver it to homeless shelters in the area.

EBC is dedicated to saving surplus food and helping the greater community outside BC.

Programs such as EBC and events such as Cooking Series will seek to give students a greater appreciation not only for the talent in the kitchens of BC, but also for the friends, family, and food they have this Thanksgiving.

Featured Image by Nicole Abalde / Flickr

November 23, 2014