Feel like turning in Classical Studies for culinary school? Anything is possible on Penn’s campus. On Feb. 13, Penn Dining gave us the newest iteration of Quaker Kitchen—a demo in which chefs from Bon Appétit, Penn's food service provider, gave students the opportunity to learn recipes for a three–course meal, talk with the chefs, and taste the finished creations, all right on campus at New College House. The demo was Valentine's Day-themed: The menu included a cranberry and orange salad, shrimp fra diavolo with zucchini noodles (zoodles), and chocolate–dipped strawberries.
Quaker Kitchen is a chef demo program in which students of all years, with or without a dining plan, can pick up a few cooking skills. The program began in fall of 2017 and has since featured items like pumpkin risotto, bow tie pasta with sun–dried tomato pesto, and donut–glazed baked bread pudding. The idea came from students who filled out surveys explaining their desire to learn from, and interact with, the Penn dining chefs.
While the chefs make sure that the meals taught aren't too intimidating, they’d definitely still put your bowl of cereal to shame.
“We try to think of things that are simple—things that students can actually prepare in their dorm rooms,” said Chef Christopher Smith, who is the Campus Executive Chef. The chefs mean it too—after the demo, each participant was given a zoodle maker for their future attempts.
Participant Samantha Hernandez (C ‘19) picked up on this too. Commenting on the zoodle maker, she elaborated “it wasn’t something that was just talk, they really genuinely mean that they want us to learn from the demo.”
Throughout the demo, Shawn Jefferson, executive sous chef at Bon Appétit, gave the students possible substitutions to make preparing the meal in a dorm truly achievable. If you don’t have the knife skills to pare an orange, mandarin oranges canned in natural juice will do the trick. Don’t have a blender to make the salad dressing? Shaking the oils, juices, and herbs in a mason jar will get the job done.
“We’re in the back a lot and we're doing what we do so it’s nice to … pause and connect with our guests and talk about food,” explained Chef Steven Green, the executive chef at NCH and Hill College House. Barbara Lea–Kreuger, Director of Communications for Business Services, saw Quaker Kitchen as an environment in which students could interact with chefs in an environment where they would not be hesitant to do so.
Through the program, students learn that the chefs are actively creating their own recipes—not just opening cans in the back of the dining hall. This initiative is more than just about food—it seems to be about forging a deeper relationship between students at Penn and the dining staff that provides for them every single day.
Quaker Kitchen members include a large body of the Bon Appétit chefs, who come together to brainstorm ideas for the Quaker Kitchen menu. The process takes about a month or two to plan, but the chefs are able to experiment and design creative recipes they believe the students would like to see.
All of the ingredients used in the demo were fresh. The tomato sauce was made from scratch, with chopped tomatoes, onions, and garlic that—when mixed with the fresh basil and oregano—smelled seductive. The zoodles—zucchini and yellow squash strung into noodle lengths—were healthy alternatives to normal pasta. The mixed green salad was light, and paired with fresh orange slices and a light citrus vinaigrette that enhanced the flavor. For dessert, ripe strawberries were dipped in dark Ghirardelli chocolate.
“Food is about just having fun," says chef Shawn Jefferson, and the whole concept of Quaker Kitchen perfectly exemplifies this. Through the event I was able to meet students of different ages as well as chefs who were both funny and knowledgeable. While I learned how to make a three course meal, I also learned little fun facts like the reason chocolate has white spots or that sugar cuts the acidity of tomatoes.
If you weren’t able to make it to this Quaker Kitchen, I highly encourage you to check it out next time. The food is delicious and meeting with the chefs is a really cool experience. While I may not have Zahav–level culinary talent, meeting new people and taking advantage of the unique opportunities Penn has for us is always a great time. Also, now I have the skills to prepare a healthy, delicious three–course meal in my dorm.
If you are interested in Penn Dining's upcoming events, you can check them out here.