(Photos by Adam Notolli)
We interrupt your regularly scheduled “angry” article to bring you something different. This last Thursday I was bribed by Phelps Dining Hall and Creative Dining to write an article about their current ongoing series “Chef’s Table.” I was invited to this event on the premise that I write an article about my time there.
The Chef’s Table was really implemented this year by a duo of people working with Creative Dining. Chef Tom Hoover was the creative genius behind the event, and has been playing around with the idea for about a year. Hoover started working in food when he was fifteen working at frozen custard stand, then spent a few years cooking. When he moved up to Saugatuck in 1980 he started his job working at Phelps Dining Hall and has been here since, totaling 36 years here and 43 total.
However, no matter how talented Hoover is, he needed somebody to get this dream going and out to the students. Enter Hailey Chrisman, the second part of this dynamic duo. While Hoover handled the food, Chrisman got started putting the actual event together. She got the sign-ups ready, set the table, hosted the event, and was influential in all aspects of the actual planning.
But what is Chef’s Table? While students at our Liberal Arts College are encouraged to discover new things and learn about all that they can, there aren’t many, or any at all that I can think of, classes regarding cooking. So on one hand Chef’s Table is meant to educate students about some of the different aspects of food and cooking. It’s also an opportunity for some of the professional chefs around campus to take a break from cooking huge meals for thousands and to sit down and work hard on a nice meal for a smaller group of students.
It isn’t impossible to get a seat at the Chef’s Table event. All one has to do to sign up is to go online and to put your name on the list. The first people to sign up are the ones to get in, and all it costs is just one swipe of an ID if you have a meal plan. The meals are multiple courses and each reflects a different theme and cooking culture, and every time it starts promptly at 4:45 p.m. The first event was catered by Chef Hoover himself, and had a French theme, although Hoover himself was trained in Asian cuisine.
My experience started when I and a handful of other students were seated at a beautifully adorned table next to the fireplace in Phelps Dining Hall. Each of us had a beautiful spinach salad in front of us, beautifully adorned with roasted walnuts and poached pears. Hoover came out and explained the plate to us before heading back to finish preparation on the next part of three course meal. The meal was delicious, and soon conversation abounded between the group of students seated at the table, among whom I found myself to be the only senior. So, after the salads were consumed and the wisdom of my years had been imparted on the young minds there, Chrisman collected our plates and soon after Hoover brought out the next course.
The main course of our meal can be perfectly summed up in one word: Amazing. Again, to keep with the education aspect of the event, Hoover spoke briefly about what he had created and presented to us. A beautiful beef tenderloin with a sweet bacon sauce, potatoes that had been whisked and blended to an almost custard consistency, a gorgeous scallop with a sweet sauce and a few asparagus adorned our plates. And, though we were sitting at a beautiful table and had plenty of fancy silverware in front of us, the college students in us soon took over and we voraciously consumed the delicious meal. The beef was tender and juicy, the potatoes were velvety and the scallop was sweet and buttery. It was definitely the best meal I’d had in a long time, and it wasn’t over yet.
After a few more minutes of conversation and jokes courtesy of yours truly, Chrisman again came out to collect our plates, ensuring that everyone was welcome to any non-alcoholic beverage in Phelps. Shortly, Hoover returned with our desert, a pumpkin mouse with cranberry on the side. He explained what we were eating, and we all slowly picked up our spoons, eagerly awaiting our next bite. The mouse had a slight pumpkin flavor and the lightest thing I’ve ever lifted on a spoon. The cranberry on the side added a beautiful tart flavor and the combination of the two items was glorious. Our plates were collected and we all slowly picked pushed in our chairs, helped bring everything back to the chefs, and then our new group of friends parted ways. Breakfast Club out.
Chef’s table was something Hoover did back in 1986, and this last meal boasted the same menu that Hoover had made those 30 years ago. The table will continue on throughout the rest of the year, with 6 more meals by 6 more chefs. The next chef to cook will be Randy Taylor on January 6, although the exact menu is still to be determined. When the date gets to be a little closer, if you have a meal plan go ahead and try to sign up for the event. There’s nothing to lose, and if you get in, you’ll definitely be in for a treat. Good food and good people combine for a great time.