[photos by Andrea Hubbell and Sarah Cramer Shields, words by Megan Headley]
Pizza, ramen, cereal, and frozen yogurt were our four main food groups when we were students at UVa, so when we received an invitation to Hereford Residential College’s Cooking Club, we realized just how much times have changed.
Two times a month, the cooking club under the direction of third-year student, Nick Williams, gets together to prepare a multicourse meal in the comfortable and well-outfitted kitchen of Hereford’s faculty principal, Nancy Takahashi. While the club pools their inspiration for each menu, many of the dishes are the ad-libbed creations of Nick, who spends his summers cooking for a catering company and who, not surprisingly, wants to be a chef.
But Nick's talent isn’t the only ingredient the cooking club has going for them; a small community garden built, planted, and tended to by students and faculty lends its harvest to the club’s meals as well as to the meals of any student who pitches in weeding or composting on Saturday work days.
When we arrive, about a dozen students are busy in the kitchen taking direction from Nick, who plays the role confidently in a crisp double-breasted chef’s coat. The menu-- butternut squash soup finished with cream, pesto-grilled chicken with a pesto-yogurt sauce, seasonal israeli couscous, garden salad, and skillet cornbread--is well on its way and Nancy’s dog, Emmert, is enjoying the company.
We eat in courses served family-style, marveling at the talent and ambition of these young men and women. And they’ve probably never eaten ramen. They watch Top Chef and the Food Network, and take advantage of Charlottesville’s culinary best, shopping at the Main Street Market and eating out whenever they can.
When it’s time for dessert, we watch Nick pipe orange-scented cream cheese frosting between pumpkin pie-spiced cookies before rolling the edges in a mixture of chopped pecans and maple flakes from The Spice Diva. We all get to make our own cookies, using as much frosting as we want, and licking our fingers afterward. Some things never change.