Students enjoy an island-themed dinner at Keeton House.

Dietetics students’ themed dinners inspired by islands, street food

With leis around their necks, lumpia (Filipino spring rolls) on their plates and a band of Cornellians strumming ukuleles in the background, hundreds of students took a trip “On Island Time” during a themed dinner service April 25 at Keeton House Dining Room.

That same evening, students at Cook House Dining Room were treated to a “Global Street Food” themed dinner with an eclectic menu inspired by regions of Mexico, Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, Central Europe and the Middle East. Highlights of the event included a gelato table, a postcard-making station and a photo booth.

Planned by students seeking to become registered dietitians, the evening was the culmination of their capstone course, NS4880: Applied Dietetics in Food Service Systems, which simulates the experience of operating and managing a food service program. The two dinners served more than 1,500 residents on Cornell’s West Campus.

“Early on in the dinner service we had one customer tell us that she was a native of Hawaii and found the dishes on our menu to be really authentic to her experience,” said Grace DeVivo ’23, who worked on the island-themed dinner. “That was such rewarding feedback to hear, and it really set the tone for the night.”

Planning for the dinners began early in the semester. The students were split into two teams and worked with Cornell Dining chefs throughout the semester to come up with a theme, develop a menu, organize entertainment, coordinate decorations, lead marketing efforts and manage a budget, said Emily Gier, associate professor of practice in the Division of Nutritional Sciences, which is housed in the College of Human Ecology and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

“In this class, students are taking all the foundational knowledge in nutrition and science they’ve learned at Cornell and applying it toward the experience of preparing food for 1,000 people,” said Gier, who has taught the course for more than 20 years. “We’re so lucky to work with Cornell Dining.”

Cornell Dining chefs serve as consultants for the course and help guide the dietetics students through the process of quantity food preparation.

“I’ve really enjoyed how the students have great ideas and are open to my feedback when planning the menu and practicing and testing week by week,” said Adam June, chef/manager of Cook House Dining Room.

Sam Ramer, chef/manager of Keeton House Dining Room, said, “Watching the group succeed with their work and effort brings that rewarding feeling into full focus.”

In lieu of a final exam, students are evaluated based on key performance indicators that they set for themselves ahead of the dinners, such as crowd control and quality of food and service. During the dinner, students encouraged customers to scan QR codes on their tables and fill out anonymous surveys that provide feedback on the experience.

Metrics that measure everything from planning to execution help immerse students in the hands-on, applied learning aspects of the course, said Kaydine Edwards, a doctoral student and teaching assistant for the course. “They really took this event seriously the entire semester, and it showed tonight,” she said.

“We had a really good flow of people, and while we had lines out the door, I think we managed it really well,” said DeVivo, who oversaw marketing for the dinner in Keeton House Dining Room. “Anyone who came between 5 and 8 p.m. is getting the same experience. We’re not running out of food, so that’s a sign that we’ve paced it really well.”

Kati Coverdale ’23, who led the student team in Cook House Dining Room, said: “It feels really rewarding to see all our plans over the semester put into action. This experience just really inspires me to be in the dietetics field. Food is such an integral part of everyone’s lives, and it’s really special to have a themed dinner emphasizing the impact that food has on people, social networks and overall health.”

Galib Braschler is a communications specialist for the College of Human Ecology.

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Rebecca Valli