They Came, They Cooked, They Feasted

At 5 p.m. on a Wednesday in March, the kitchen in Morrow House is bustling. Plantains are piled on a stainless steel table. Nearby, fresh poblano peppers are spread out on a cutting board, awaiting the requisite roasting and blackening over high heat.

Some 10 Smith students with a variety of cooking skills and several chefs from Smith’s Dining Services are gathered at fluorescent-lit cooking stations. Their mission on this last of five Wellness Goes Global cooking sessions: turn the piles of fresh ingredients in front of them into textbook examples of favorite foods from Latin and African countries. By the time they’re done a few hours later, the mostly amateur cooks have worked their way through a long list of recipe instructions to serve up an array of mouth-watering fare, including enchiladas, chili rellenos, Jollof rice, tostones (fried plantains) and flan.

The cooking classes—also known as Feeding the Whole You—were the brainchild of Kristina Mereigh, associate director of wellness services for the Schacht Center for Health and Wellness. Mereigh received an Innovation Challenge grant from President Kathleen McCartney to launch the Wellness Goes Global program that includes the cooking classes. It is one of 16 projects awarded funding this year.

Thanks to the grant, every Wednesday for five weeks, anywhere from 10 to 25 students reported for duty as chefs’ helpers in the Morrow kitchen. Instructors from the Dining Services staff—including Director of Dining Services Andrew Cox, Executive Chef Dino Giordano and Area Manager Rick Rubin—awaited their arrival, chef jacket sleeves rolled up, knives, bowls and cutting boards at the ready.

“They come in, they meet with their teams and figure out what recipe they will be working on. They talk about the recipe, and then they just get going,” said Mereigh, who also served in the kitchen each week as recipe cheerleader, music coordinator and instructor for one of the teams.

The menus for Feeding the Whole You were decided earlier in the semester. Students applied to participate and also submitted for consideration recipes of favorite family foods from home. Mereigh organized each week’s cooking session around a theme; one week was Asian, another was African Caribbean diaspora; this week was Latin.

Students who were once tentative with their cooking skills eventually took to their assigned recipes with notable enthusiasm.

At the final Wednesday night session, Kate Carruth ’20 made a Snapchat story of the tostones she was preparing while also working with Mereigh on the dessert flan. Authentic dishes that once seemed daunting were no longer off limits. “My favorite recipe, of all the dishes that I’ve cooked so far? Pasta Bolognese,” she said.

“I love cooking,” said Mollie Driller-Colangelo ’18 as she added cheeses and peppers to the enchilada dish she was making. “I’m a neuroscience major and a chemistry minor, and it’s really great to have a creative outlet like this on campus, and this is definitely one of the biggest highlights of my Smith career so far. It seriously is.”

Cooking favorite family recipes was just one element of the program as envisioned by Mereigh. The overall goal was to bring a sense of home to the college by providing elements of culture that students may be missing during their time at Smith. Soca-fusion dance classes also were offered this semester as well as “Wholeness Calligraphy” workshops and a daylong body positive workshop with Ironman trainee Ragen Chastain.

“There was a lot of focus on creating community and bringing a fun spirit to Smith,” Mereigh said. “I want students to feel well and good about themselves, and know ‘I can be a true Smithie here and be happy.’”