Culinary Showcase Highlights Staff Experiences A special dinner series at The Marketplace this academic year has featured menus created by Dining Services employees to pay homage to places they’ve lived or studied in culinary school.
Ordering pimento wood and glass noodles from special purveyors is not in a typical day’s work for Patrick Swope, culinary executive chef at The Marketplace, but he has found himself sourcing some obscure ingredients this academic year as part of a monthly dinner series that allows Dining Services employees to create menus based on their life experiences.
So far this year, the culinary team has invited students to showcase dinners featuring the cuisines of Korea, Columbia, Vietnam, Brazil, the U.S. Southwest and Jamaica, with special menus crafted by employees who either lived in those areas or studied those cuisines in culinary school.
“The staff have really enjoyed it, especially the ones that are involved in creating the menus,” Swope said. “It’s been really fun to watch them get excited.”
The March showcase offered a Jamaican menu planned by Dining Operations Assistant Everton Charlton, who was born and raised on the beautiful island. Charlton moved to the U.S. in 2000 and has worked in dining at The Omni Homestead Resort and W&L.
His menu featured traditional jerk chicken grilled over pimento wood, which Swope purchased from Minnesota. It also included oxtail stew, coconut rice and peas, red pea stew, Jamaican festival (Caribbean dumplings), sweet fried plantains, Jamaican-style cabbage, and bammy, a flatbread made from cassava root and coconut. The team even served Ting, a popular Jamaican soda made with grapefruit.
“The students are still talking about it. Some of them said it was the best meal they’ve had since they’ve been here, and they want to know when we’re going to do it again,” Charlton said. “Two days ago, they were still asking for Ting.”
The Korean dinner, which took place in September, was planned by Jongsun Kim, a cook at The Marketplace. It featured braised beef short ribs, marinated eggplant, sweet potato noodles with vegetables, zucchini pancake, broccoli with tofu, and kimchi. Jongsun is from Seoul, South Korea, but she came to Lexington because she fell in love with the city when her son matriculated at the W&L School of Law.
“I am so thankful for this opportunity to introduce these various traditional Korean cuisines to the W&L family,” she wrote in her bio for the dinner.
Pantry worker David Faulds, who has lived in Bolivia, Brazil, Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Colombia and Switzerland, planned a Colombian and Brazilian menu for October. That meal included feijoiada (Brazilian black bean stew), potato and vegetable empanadas, fried plantains, lemon butter-broiled yucca, avocado and bean ceviche, greens and farofa.
“I wanted to do some things that had not been done here before,” Faulds wrote. “I feel that I could introduce students to food that they would otherwise never have a chance to experience.”
Cook David Monahan called on his Johnson & Wales culinary school education, which focused heavily on classical French cuisine, to plan a French menu with braised duck, asparagus, gratin dauphinois, cassoulet, ratatouille, salad Nicoise and onion tarts. Senior Cook Woody Harris, who has also coached rugby at W&L, planned a Southwest-themed menu for January’s dinner that offered such treats as Southwest chicken and vegetable lasagna and Mexican street corn, and Monahan pitched in again in February to create a Vietnamese menu with grilled Vietnamese pork chops, tofu with tomato sauce, udon noodles, spring rolls and Vietnamese sizzling pancakes.
Swope said one more showcase is being planned for this academic year, and it will feature Native American cuisine.
It’s not unusual for W&L’s Dining Services staff to have fun with menus for The Marketplace. In the past, they’ve coordinated with the Lenfest Center to do cross-promotional dinners for productions like “Dracula” (Romanian food), “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (Greek food), and “The Cherry Garden” (Russian food). For that last one, Swope said, they found an actual copy of a menu served by Tsar Nicholas II.
“We’ve also done menus in the past that reflect the diversity of our student population, but this is the first time we’ve done it based on the diversity of our staff,” Swope said. “It’s been really fun.”