May 30, 2012

Looking Back, Looking Forward at Food, Cooking and College

In September 2010, I wrote my first post on Dorm Room Dinner. At that time, I really had no idea where this blog would go. I was curious about the way college students cook. I had always found food - and home cooking in particular - to be a central part of my life. It had found its way into my life by way of cooking with family and friends since I was little, by way of a catering business I started in middle school, and by way of summer jobs in high school. I had found a way to bring that same enthusiasm for cooking to college. I had made friends by cooking with them in my incredibly small and poorly lit freshman dorm, I had lived in a cooking-themed house as a sophomore and founded a different food blog studying abroad in Italy, and I started a sandwich business with a friend at the Wesleyan farmers market. 
Cooking was once again a central part of my life in college, and I wanted to share my experiences cooking at college with others, find out what other college students were cooking in their kitchens (or dorm rooms), and provide a resource for those who wanted to start.

In my first post, I a
How do college students (or anyone, for that matter) cook with what they've got and still eat well? How can we improve the quality of food both for ourselves and those around us?

I’ve learned a lot in response to those questions. I’ve learned that college students from all over are interested more than ever in good food and cooking. I’ve learned that college students are wonderfully inventive and creative in their approach to food. Some have the culinary skill of a veteran chef, manage farms, edit food publications, blog about it, start food businesses, run farmers markets, collect vintage recipes and know more about the history of fair-trade coffee than you will ever hope to know. Others are still learning how to chop an onion (tip: don’t do it with a butter knife). This blog is for both sets of people, and I’m equally thrilled that both are finding a way to cook and be happy with it.

But what became quickly apparent when I started this blog is that college students aren’t that different from the rest of the world when it comes to food and cooking. And that’s a good thing. It doesn’t matter if you’re 14, 20, or 75, anyone can understand the significance of good food who invests some time in it.  I wouldn’t be the first person to say that food is about more than what ends up on your dinner plate.

So what is good food about?

Well, this blog has taught me a few things about that. Let’s start with some fundamentals:

1. Good food is about good food. That is to say, good tasting, healthy, fresh, home cooked food is important. Spending time in the kitchen preparing food that you want to eat is important. Be it from a recipe or the depths of your crazy imagination, good food should be from real ingredients, made in a kitchen, and taste simply delicious!

2. Good food is about community. This may sound abstract, but this is the most concrete and fundamental component of food and home cooking I can think of. Good food and cooking brings people together. It's about connecting with the people in your life. Preparing a meal together, sitting down to meal together - that's the power of good food.

I knew those well before Dorm Room Dinner came into being, and I’m sure you know those too. But this blog has taught me that good food is about even more:

3. Good food should be fun. Even ridiculous. If I've learned anything from this blog, it's that to maintain a lasting relationship with good food, you have to have fun with it. Maybe that's be preparing steak and donuts for dinner one night. Maybe it's by creating a slightly absurd series of videos which include everything from cupcake smashing to bow tie sandwich making. Have fun with your food.

4. Good food is about good people. Lots of them. It's about community, but about finding new, good people in your community who also like good food. If you make good food an important part of your life, you'll come across other wonderful people doing the same thing. Good food and this blog have connected me with countless amazing people, from fellow college students who want to prepare dinner together one night, to other food bloggers, cooks, eaters, and new friends, some of whom I was lucky enough to interview in the Table Talk interview series. So talk to the guy at the butcher counter, invite a neighbor to dinner, start a conversation with a food writer, cook with a colleague. Good food always leads to good people.

Since starting Dorm Room Dinner almost two years ago, food and cooking have maintained an very important place in my life. I've had wonderful opportunities with food. I got to write my thesis about food, organize a food writing conference, and work with some other amazing people in the food world. But most importantly, I got to sit down to wonderful homemade dinners with friends at my home at college almost every night of the week. For that last item in particular, I feel very lucky. 

This past Sunday I graduated college. Which begs the question: will a blog entitled "Dorm Room Dinner" which is about cooking and college continue after I've left college? I've thought long and hard about it, considered changing the name, starting a new blog, or just taking a break from blogging all together.
But honestly, all those alternatives sounded ridiculous to me after some thought. I love it here at Dorm Room Dinner, and though dorm rooms may be well in my past at this point, I don't want to let it go. Dorm Room Dinner isn't leaving, and I hope you'll all continue to keep me company around here. Keep leaving your comments, telling me what your cooking, emailing me photos of your dinners, expressing your concerns about Paula Deen, expressing your admiration for Paula Deen and her love of butter in particular. You know what I mean. 

Let's keep cooking. 

Photo Credits: Willis Kliefoth