Your taste buds can sense that it’s October and you’re craving some saffron risotto. The closest thing you can find is Easy Mac. Where do you turn?
Meet Christopher Yang and Sweta Agrawal, both CC ’09, of the Columbia University Culinary Society, a.k.a. Foodies Anonymous. Yang, the Society’s president, and Agrawal are just two of many students in the club who feel that the college life should in no way impede one’s gastronomic adventures—especially not in New York City.
“New York is not only full of the most exciting top restaurants, it’s also a nexus of ingredients and cultures,” Yang says. Taking advantage of New York’s rich resources, the Culinary Society aims to both impart basic cooking skills to Columbia’s student body and encourage the development of adventurous palates.
The Culinary Society holds weekly cooking classes for Columbia students, teaching everything from knife skills to crepe-making to creating fruit syrups for Italian sodas. Both complete beginners and budding chefs will be in good hands; the club has miraculously never set off a fire alarm because as Yang puts it, “Come on. We’re pros.” But with such busy schedules, why should Columbia students bother learning to cook? “There won’t always be dining halls in the future, so cooking is an important skill to have,” Agrawal says, “and cooking for yourself is usually a lot healthier than eating out.”
Yang agrees. “Once you can cook, you become much more aware of what you are eating, how it’s created, how it’s put together. Cooking is like any other art. When you start to cook, you can appreciate eating more, just like if you play an instrument, you appreciate listening to music a lot more.”
In addition to cooking classes, the club will cater campus events, hold cheese, wine, and chocolate tastings, host potlucks, and possibly arrange for an Iron Chef-style cooking contest at Columbia. The Society is also trying to invite local chefs to speak about and demonstrate their culinary ideas. “There are many different directions the club takes, but a really important part of the club is learning to appreciate new food, new flavors, new ways of eating.” Yang says.
One of the Culinary Society’s main goals for the year is to spark a greater passion for food and cooking within the Columbia community. “It’s a shame that more young people aren’t into cooking, because of monetary and spatial concerns,” Yang says. “There’s so much culture, literature, and history surrounding food.” Fortunately, cooking shows such as Top Chef and Hell’s Kitchen and popular food bloggers like Anthony Bourdain have begun to inspire growing interest in fine cuisine among college students.
Because food is “getting to be a trendy subject,” as Agrawal says, the club sees this year as the perfect opportunity to spread its mission. Agrawal urges students to “try new flavors, and more importantly, try to make eating into something more than a chore or a basic act of sustenance. There’s a lot of joy and happiness to be found in food. You’d be amazed how it can lift your spirits on a bad day, or make a good day even better.”
But cooking gourmet food takes time and money, and meanwhile, you might be stuck with your mini hot pot or your John Jay kitchenette (read: microwave). In the interim, Yang says, “John Jay can be a cornucopia of ingredients. Cooking out of the John Jay dining hall is a fine art... bring a Ziploc and pillage the salad bar.” Agrawal suggests bringing your own condiments, like Sriracha or your favorite steak sauce. And when all else fails? Yang admits: “My frozen food guilty pleasure is Mama Celeste’s Pizza.”