Through steam and smoke, behind pale walls and patterned corridors, a cook is at work somewhere in the residence hall.
This student chef is a familiar face in a setting of aged kitchen appliances: defunct burners, dented sauce pans and a single robust oven.
But dorm living and cooking is a wholesome existence.
Dorm cuisine is a virtuous act, if not always fruitful. A train of purchases from the store is brought home to mimic a flawless recipe.
Time ticks. And by the end, either the recipe works and you impressed yourself, or a step was missed, the process overlooked and something went very wrong; you played yourself.
But the student culinarian is astute, aware of many options and possibilities.
There are two typical approaches to dorm eats during freshman year: the dining hall, or a mix of the dorm kitchen and your room.
To simplify the freshman experience, and maybe subsequent years, Cal Dining’s meal plans serve your needs. Before class, swipe yourself into several Willy Wonka factories of select delights. Up the stairs and past rows of gawky students. It’s fascinating. To the left, salad. To the right, pizza. Chicken, beef, fish and more meat. Sometimes the ice cream works. Yet the hall imitates a buffet, the foyer leading wide-eyed students to a newfound enterprise.
With the dining hall, bare sustenance isn’t questioned — nor should it be — though the quality dictates the discourse of any post meal: how was it? did you try the fish? did you take two bananas, too? The food fills the stomach. It helps regulate your system.
Dining halls have an eerie significance. The food is there, hot and cold. It’s the first monument in the college experience: food, food, food and friends.
Yet, it is heinous to take away the simple act of dining through one’s own concoction and creation for the student chef. Rehabilitation after Sunday studying comes in grub, in the dorm kitchen alone or with a companion, trying to make something. The moments are candid.
Resources are limited, but the advent of the microwave has made being an introvert highly sustainable. Have you tried a poached egg in a mug?
We can understand, the food never satisfies. Refrigerated leftovers are searched, and hunger emerges as a real contender for occupying your time.
Questionable aromas often paint the walls of dorm floors. The air is saturated with something, we can only guess. In the next 10 months, baffling aromas will continue to bewilder the entire floor.
When students return from class, doused by sun, sweat and the fragrances of the day, they come home even hungrier.
Your floor’s doors sway to and fro. Students emerge twirling macaroni and twisting plastic spoons, forks and sporks, sullen or energized, famished, then full. A wild child with tuna is eating behind a not-so-closed door.
Roommates and floormates were often overcome by this gruesome affair. Most fall into earlier undesirable habits of cleanliness, often criminal; some just don’t carrot all. But the kitchen can be a stage, a euphony of heavenly onomatopoeia coaxing the unsuspecting ear.
In available kitchens for group living, soiled carpet tells a tale long forgotten, and the laughter and grins on a Friday and Saturday night reach every corner and crevice, detailing every niche and nook in a history soon to be forgotten.
When the floor assembles, potlucks turn into dinner parties. Wine is covertly introduced and uncorked. Faucets are throttled and trash cans filled.
The first year is rather odd. Neat, but relentless. Dorms are strange, your roommates sometimes stranger, and the independence is sabotaging to a mind newly released from home occupation. To eat out or not to eat out? A wallet often becomes skeletal.
Food will always be welcome to the student. It’s a most cursed thing. And while over time, my hollow frame has evolved through stages of emaciation to sweet plumpness, between half meals and full snacks, the idea of dorm cuisine has stayed the same. You make time for what you enjoy. And if it’s cooking, we’ve got all the thyme in the world.
But it’s true. Freshman year is certainly an Introduction to Cooking 101. A zero-unit class on how to become independent in some way.
Contact Robert Tooke at [email protected],