"Recipes from Home" Tested on Unsuspecting Judges
By Laurie Fenlason
Although I've never been mistaken for a foodie, it didn't take much to persuade me to accept an invitation from Residence and Dining Services (RADS) to taste some new recipes. In fact, all it took was a little letter -- the letter 's,' specifically -- appended modestly to the end of dessert. Would I be willing to sample, say, 25 or so pies, cakes, cookies, trifles, etc., made from recipes sent in by students' parents -- each goody being their daughter's avowed favorite in the entire world?
It was a tough job, but someone had to do it.
Actually, I had help. Some 30 faculty members, administrators, staff members and students, going well beyond the call of duty, agreed to assist RADS over four days in January in judging Smith's first-ever "recipes from home" contest. The premise was simple: help students feel more at home at Smith by finding out, from their families, what they most liked to eat.
Ten RADS cooks labored for a week during Interterm to produce 200 favorite recipes from home submitted by Smith parents. Then came the tough job: tasting each entry.
Responding to a letter from assistant catering managers Rick Rubin and Pat Mahar, Smith parents sent in more than 300 recipes, some from as far away as Japan and Greece. In a feat worthy of "Iron Chef," 10 RADS cooks labored for a week during Interterm to produce 200 of the submissions. We selfless volunteer testers then put our tastebuds to work in one (or more) of four categories: soups and salads, vegetarian/vegan dishes, meat dishes and, of course, desserts.
I can't say that my dessert evaluations were definitive: after diving into the Mayonnaise Cake, Scotcheroos, Chocolate Éclair Cake and Puppy Chow (don't ask), it all started to run together and I found myself in urgent need of a nap. In fact, although I had planned to be systematic and try a bit of everything, I quickly conceded that such thoroughness would be inadvisable -- if not impossible. I'm told that one of the cookie recipes was submitted by the mother behind Mrs. Fields -- the cookie and gift chain -- whose daughter is a Smithie. I couldn't confirm that; after 25 minutes of focused sugar-grazing I was ready to mug the Pillsbury dough boy just for a glass of milk.
In the end, when the 200 recipes were narrowed to 12 in each category, the students spoke. On March 1, lunch and dinner in each house featured the finalist dishes -- and ballots for voting. The winning soup -- Baked Potato Soup -- was submitted by the mother of Megan Quirk of Emerson House. Kayte Fisher of Parsons House is the inspiration behind the winning salad, Spinach Salad with Pecans. The best vegetarian/vegan entrée -- Spinach Lasagna Roll-ups -- is attributed to Lesley Weaver of Lamont House. Ayaka Den and family take credit for the winning meat entrée, Japanese-Style Fried Chicken. And Jessica Lampron's favorite Crunch Cream Dessert Squares took top honors in the dessert category.
When the powdered sugar had settled, I was curious to talk to the students whose recipes -- or rather whose parents' recipes (an important distinction) -- had won. Were they now celebrities? How were they handling their sudden fame? More importantly, having partaken of their comfort food here at Smith, did they now feel comforted? Or feel more at home?
For Quirk, whose mother's Baked Potato Soup bested the other entries in the soups category, the jury's still out.
"Honestly," Quirk marveled, "my mother is a good cook but she doesn't find time to cook much. I don't actually remember having ever tasted this soup before." Quirk did try the soup during the contest -- and, fortunately, found that she liked it. "I plan to have my mom make it for me this summer," she assured me.
Laurie Fenlason is the college's media relations director. She selflessly takes on the myriad challenges of the job.
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