Students enjoy “Boticelli’s Banquet,” an Italian Renaissance themed dinner and an official Freedom of Expression Theme Year event held in Keeton dining.

Freedom of Expression-themed dinners focus on choice

Drawing inspiration from Cornell’s Freedom of Expression theme year, nutritional science students crafted menus for more than 1,000 students that made the connection between food and free speech.

Freedom of Expression

“Botticelli’s Banquet,” an Italian Renaissance-themed dinner held in Keeton House on April 23, featured Tuscan-inspired ingredients and a customizable, house-made pizza – evoking the newfound freedom of expression that marked the Renaissance.

Meanwhile in Alice Cook House, guests enjoyed a “Culinary Zodiac.” The menu interpreted the four types of astrological signs (fire, water, earth and air) into corresponding foods, offering a variety of ways for individuals to express themselves through what they eat, including a loaded fry bar with an assortment of selections, and Asian-American fusion, from Korean barbecue wings to miso salmon.

The evening was the culmination of Applied Dietetics in Food Service Systems, the capstone course for students planning to become registered dietitians. In the course, students form two teams and then work with Cornell Dining chefs throughout the semester to plan themed dinners, each for 600-800 guests, learning about food service operations and facility management along the way.

“Students get to work alongside Cornell Dining staff to develop a menu, organize a budget, lead marketing efforts and coordinate decorations and entertainment,” said Emily Gier ’91, associate professor of practice in the Division of Nutritional Sciences. “This evening is where they execute.”

The team assigned to Keeton House initially approached the house’s dining staff with concepts including a “Freedom of Espresso” café experience or Greek food in honor of the region where democracy first emerged. But those ideas proved difficult to adapt to a large-scale event. Sam Ramer, chef/manager of Keeton House Dining Room, helped the students choose a theme that would be easier to translate into a menu of dishes manageable for dining staff to produce in quantity and to appeal to a broad section of the campus community.

“Chef Sam started giving us ideas and making connections we hadn’t considered, and then we sort of had this aha moment, where we found the Italian Renaissance theme a lot more intriguing,” said Regina Walton ’24.

The students also took Ramer’s recommendation to ground their menu with a popular item – in this case, chicken parmesan.

“Our chefs really encouraged us to consider having something customizable on our dinner menu,” said Gabrielle Finora ’24, whose team transformed Alice Cook House Dining Room for the zodiac-themed dinner. They reached capacity only an hour into service and ultimately served more than 800 guests.

“It’s a very rewarding experience to see the meal evolve from paper to being on the line and ready for students to eat,” said Adam June, the Cook House Dining Room chef/manager.

Students enjoy entertainment while eating at Keeton House.

In lieu of a final exam, Gier evaluates students based on key performance indicators that they set for themselves ahead of the dinners, such as crowd control and quality of food. Guests provided feedback through an online survey.

“We got great feedback from students, faculty and VIP guests about the delicious food and welcoming environment,” said Jasmine Guarin ’24, part of the Culinary Zodiac team. “Some even mentioned it was the best themed dinner they have ever attended on West Campus, which I thought was a huge honor.”

For seniors, the course provides a special way to spend their final semester: out of the classroom and in the kitchen, applying all they have learned to execute an event that allows the Cornell community to share a special meal.

“This dinner taught me a lot about myself, especially my abilities in managing unexpected circumstances, stressful situations and working effectively with a team,” said Guarin. “I was able to use all the skills I developed over the past four years as a nutritional sciences major, and that feels really rewarding.”

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

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Lindsey Knewstub