This semester, students in the Hotel, Restaurant, and Institution Management program have presented several “restaurants” in the eatery space in ES 111. They have created meals that can be enjoyed by students, faculty and the broader community for 8, 10 and 12 dollars respectively. Patrons have been able to enjoy high caliber meals that are far superior to what is offered in the cafeteria while giving Mercer students an opportunity to hone their cooking skills.
The students have offered three meal services throughout the semester. On Mondays the Advanced Inter- national Class has been deliver- ing lunches inspired by various regions of the world. Tuesday’s dinners have been prepared by the American Regional Cuisine class, featuring American cui- sine, and Tuesday’s lunches have been created by the Food Preparation II class.
Unlike the other two classes, students in Food Preparation II enjoy full creative control of their service, making it the most inventive of the three and certainly worthy of review. “All menu items are created by the class,” said culinary Professor Frank Benowitz. “The students spend the first three weeks proposing dishes and voting on them. Every semester it’s differ- ent: different dishes, different themes.”
This semester, the theme chosen by Food Prep II was “Harvest Lunch,” featuring rustic dishes like pumpkin crusted lamb and honey ginger beef.
A typical day at the Harvest Lunch was October 23 when The VOICE paid a visit. The “restaurant” space in ES 111 was packed and waits were long but the food was worth it.
First the culinary students offered a bread basket filled with scones. The scones smelled freshly made and were crispy on the outside with a sa- vory seasoning, unfortunately, however, the salty crust over- powered the rest of the flavors. Further, the scones were served with a cranberry maple but- ter that clashed with the savory quality of the scones themselves.
The appetizer was a pumpkin chili with Kobe beef. The chili was warm and inviting, a light buttery scent wafting from the crock. Every bite revealed the clarity of the flavor and consistency of the pumpkin, tempered by spices and vegetables. The mélange was punctuated with lumps of juicy Kobe beef, as the chili beans, already so tender, liquefied with the slightest pressure. The experience of that chili was absolutely the high point of the entire meal.
The entree was pork served on a bed of shredded and spiced granny smith apple, with sides of risotto and vegetables. The chop was minimally seasoned, but had been overdone and came out tough, which is too bad, since Prof. Benowitz noted that the pork was locally sourced from Cherry Grove Farm in Lawrenceville and was very high quality.
As for the sides, any- one who enjoys watching cooking competition shows knows that risotto trips up many contestants, but the Food Prep II class did a good job with their risotto; it had an intoxicating aroma, and was buttery with a hint of sweetness. The vegetables featured mostly beets and they would have been overpowering were it not for the fresh pepper which that tempered their severity.
Desert for this meal was a gingerbread trifle that was exceptionally good. The whipped cream was perfectly light; the custard was rich and just sweet enough and the dense ginger cake was perfectly dark and spicy. This piece of heaven was followed by Local Grover’s Mill coffee to concluded the meal.
According to Prof. Benowitz, student chefs rotate through kitchen duty, meaning that any dish may have been the first attempt of any student. With that in mind and considering the price was only eight dollars, I can overlook a chewy pork chop– especially when it’s part of a gourmet four-course meal that included the extraordinarily good chili and trifle.
Student Government President Anderson Monken says he started going to the restaurant last year. “I was astonished to find such great food at such a low price here at Mercer,” Monken told The VOICE. “It was great to discover that I had some dining options.”
The Harvest Lunch service has ended for this semester, but Prof. Benowitz said that the program is planning more meal services for the Spring 2013 Semester.