Trading Campfires for Barbecues

 

There’s more to “cooking COOT” than mixing and masticating

By Ruth Jacobs
Photography by Jeff Pouland
 

Spiders in the tent. Three days without a shower. Mac ’n’ cheese on a camp stove. These are the things that make COOT COOT. Right?

Not necessarily. This year 12 first-year students feasted on homemade bowtie pasta and meatballs served with grilled vegetable and goat cheese galette. They stayed in a cabin, drank milkshakes for breakfast, and, yes, they bonded. “I don’t think I could’ve bonded if I was in, like, a hurricane sitting around a campfire. I wouldn’t want to talk to anyone, I’d just be sitting there mad,” said Chykee-Jahbre Ward ’15 of Bronx, New York. “But I mean, it was sunny outside, we had man time—it was just the guys and a couple of girls sitting around the grill, grilling bacon.”

In year two of Cooking with Local, Sustainable Foods, COOTers from as close as York, Maine and as far as Beijing, China, picked vegetables from Colby’s organic garden, played with baby goats at a local cheesery, and got their hands dirty—with garlic and flour. Cooking COOT is among a handful of new trips added last year to address the changing population at Colby. “I think there was a time in Colby’s history when the great majority of incoming students … had an interest in a traditional [wilderness] COOT experience,” said Director of Campus Life Jed Wartman. “And as our student-body composition has changed, we’ve seen different interests, comfort levels, desires around the COOT experience.”

New COOT options, which all have an outdoor component, include yoga, painting, photography, and meditation. But cooking COOT fills up quickly, according to Associate Director of Dining Services Joe Klaus, who leads a hands-on cooking class the first night. Its popularity doesn’t surprise Klaus. “Cooking as a whole is gaining in popularity.” One reason, he says, is food television.

If COOTer Ward is any indication, Klaus is right. “Pretty much all my cooking know-how and experience comes from watching cooking shows—a lot of Jacques Pépin, Alton Brown,” Ward said. He rattles off the names of nearly a dozen shows, from Good Eats to Simply Ming. “Is that too much?”

Jiayi Zhang ’15 and Matthew D’Orazio ’15
Jiayi Zhang ’15 and Matthew D’Orazio ’15 grill vegetables for the goat cheese galette.

Other students report watching Top Chef (“I’ve watched this so many times on Top Chef, I feel like I know how to do it,” said Eric Collimore ’15  as he embarked on rolling pasta) and Iron Chef, which inspired a competition on this trip with a very COOT secret ingredient: s’mores. The winning team swayed the judges, Klaus and the two COOT leaders, with a marshmallow milkshake garnished with chocolate ribbons and toasted marshmallow for dessert following baked sweet potatoes with marshmallows served on graham cracker “plates.” Reported Catherine Sharp ’15: “It was just so much fun—not only making it, but making it look really pretty and Iron Chef style.”

For Sharp, cooking is more than fun. “It’s just so fulfilling to … put so much effort into something and have it come out beautifully—and not only be beautiful but be something that really really tastes good,” she said. The Bar Harbor native, who asked for and received a CSA (community supported agriculture) share as her high-school graduation present, also felt passionate about the local and sustainable element of the COOT. “I really think there’s a difference between eating locally, which was what this COOT was about, and buying things from the supermarket, because at the supermarket everything’s so detached from where it came from,” she said. “Actually being able to see where something like the goat cheese came from—like there’s the goats right there—you have this connection that makes what you’re eating so much more meaningful.”

This understanding is part of what Klaus, a certified master gardener and the driving force behind Colby’s garden, aims to instill in students. They know a lot about food, he said, but little about how it gets to them. “What they don’t know is that carrots come from the ground, they don’t know how potatoes grow. … To them, their food comes from the grocery store.”

After tasting asparagus from the ground and grape tomatoes from the vine (“I normally hate tomatoes but these are really good,” said Collimore) students broke into groups to cut lettuce, eggplant, squash—and dig potatoes. Enthusiasm was abundant: “Wow!” “Gorgeous!” “That’s so cool, so weird!”

“It’s like a scavenger hunt,” said Ben Howard ’15 of Wellesley, Mass., as he and Collimore pushed the potato digger into the ground. Later Collimore, of Fairfield, Conn., reflected. “Those potatoes—they were like finding nuggets of gold in the ground.”

He may never see French fries in the same way.

 
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