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Reflections from cooks on campus

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All photos courtesy of Anna Lynn Winfrey

Despite mandatory meal plans and grungy communal kitchens, some students choose to forgo meals in Hamilton “Ham” Center and cook for themselves. Hannah Nations, Isaac Denner and Elizabeth Ramsamooj make the most of their busy schedules and dorm kitchen spaces to cook delicious food.

Second-year Hannah Nations, who worked as a baker at Four Winds Cafe in Fall 2018, lives in V Dorm and has been cooking since she could stand in the kitchen. She started cooking full meals for her family in highschool, after her mom went back to school. She still cooks for her family when she visits and bakes occasionally at her grandparents’ house nearby.

“My mom is out of school [now], so she cooks more,” Nations said. “They probably eat out a lot more. They eat all the foods they couldn’t eat when I was home.”

Nations has some food allergies that prohibit her from eating regularly at Hamilton “Ham” Center. But she enjoys cooking for herself. 

“I know what’s going in it, so I don’t have to be worried about the ingredients,” Nations said. “I know it’s going to be healthier and I know it’s something I’m going to like.”

Her least favorite part of cooking in her dorm is the limited space, but she avoids cooking in communal kitchens because of the mess. 

“If you accidentally leave something there, you’re not getting it back,” Nations said.

During his first year, someone stole a half-eaten bowl of rice third-year Isaac Denner left in Third Court Lounge. But after a couple weeks, he got it back, intact.

“I sent an angry email to my RA because this bowl was part of a set and I used this bowl quite often,” Denner said. 

He went on to clarify, “I wasn’t angry at my RA, I was just like, ‘I really want this bowl back!’ A couple weeks later, she emailed me because maintenance had found the bowl in the Caples parking lot, still half full of rice.”

Denner often cooked for himself and others out of his room and Third Court Lounge. His favorite appliance is the Instant Pot, which was invaluable to feed hungry crowds at odd hours.

“The instant pot saved my life, dorm cooking,” Denner said. “Rice [is] so easy to make and convenient at 3:00 a.m. when everyone’s a little buzzed and no one can go and get McDonald’s. So, I would just make these huge pots of rice and then [pour] canned beans into them and I didn’t even have to leave the dorm or do any work. You can talk to people who probably remember these big pots of rice and beans. It was the late night fare at Pei 338.”

Both of his parents cooked and were precise meal planners, so Denner didn’t learn how to cook until he taught himself his first year. Looking back at some of his first dishes, he saw a lot of room for improvement. 

“I would make really intricate ramen that in retrospect was probably overdone and had too much going on,” Denner said. “It wasn’t very good, but I liked to pretend that I was a master chef because I could boil an egg in ramen.”

 When asked what motivates him to cook even when he’s tired, Denner replied, “Honestly, I really enjoy cooking. I love it all the time.”

Like Nations and Denner, thesis student Elizabeth Ramsamooj holds a deep love for cooking, especially for others. 

“Food is family and community and great times,” Ramsamooj said. “When someone in the moment is not thinking about the stresses in life but they’re nourishing their body with something that I can make and provide them, my heart is happy. I get so emotional over that. It’s my happiness.”

In addition to researching and writing her interdisciplinary thesis about how food insecurity affects the gut microbiome, Ramsamooj works as the Metz marketing intern. She runs the social media pages, writes blog posts and communicates with Metz’s regional and corporate offices.

Ramsamooj recently applied for the Fulbright Student Program to study world food cultures and mobility at the University of Gastronomic Studies in Pollenzo, Italy. The university was established by the founder of the worldwide Slow Food Movement in 2004 to apply cross-disciplinary research to promote sustainable food practices, which aligns with Ramsamooj’s passions for activism, food and biology.

She encourages any interested students to apply for Fulbright grants. 

“Even if you don’t get it, at least you have this experience where you’re really critically thinking about what you want to do,” Ramsamooj said. “Like, what means things to you in your life. Throughout the application process I had to think, ‘How did food come into my life?’ It’s always been there.”

It just so happens that one of Ramsamooj’s favorite types of cuisines is Italian food. Her mom did not learn how to cook from Ramsamooj’s grandmother, because she wanted her daughter to focus on school. But after Ramsamooj’s mom moved to New York City, she was drawn to the delicious simplicity of the ample Italian food and learned to cook some Italian dishes. 

Ramsamooj’s parents split up when she was in middle school. Her mom worked hard so Ramsamooj and her sister had good food to eat. 

“She would make us breakfast and lunch every day,” Ramsamooj recalled. “She would work all night and then come home in the morning. We’d eat breakfast on the way to school and she’d make us lunch from scratch.” 

Ramsamooj worked at the Four Winds Cafe her second year. One of her co-workers suggested making a food Instagram account (@liz_cooks_) and she regularly posts pictures and recipes of her culinary creations.

“I really thought about, ‘What makes you happy?’ And for me it was food,” Ramsamooj said. “I got the confidence to realize that people will support me. I make food for my community and people enjoy it.”

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