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Frat’s food revolution
Fraternity cooking is changing for the better and helping members refine their palates
In a school so deeply embedded in tradition, ongoing revolutions are usually rare and not terribly emphasized. Furthermore, we don’t tend to pay attention to things that aren’t that sexy. If there was an ongoing revolution in the registrar, say a controversial new registration process, or a new revolution in the way parties are conducted, say an earlier shut down time due to a neighborhood of families wanting to sleep, they would be covered ad nauseam. However, there is an actual revolution going on right now in an area that the campus usually takes for granted: food in fraternities.
Back in the day, food in fraternities was considered to be the lowest of the low. Achieving heights barely above the cuisine served in Oliver’s orphanage, the food was supposed to provide some kind of sustenance in between keg stands. However, nowadays fraternities are in the process of progressively switching to a new kind of eating. By hiring new chefs with a passion for their profession, food is not only getting better but it is promoting a more refined overall lifestyle.
This new style of cooking fraternity food has two new mantras driving the process: food is fun and food is educational. Now, on the surface this sounds pretty stupid. I could promote toilet paper as being both potentially fun and educational, and that doesn’t mean that you will start looking at toilet paper in a new way. However, these new fraternity chefs have the passion and ingenuity to make food both fun and educational.
You will not see this revolution going on during the day. Let’s face it, when guys eat lunch, they don’t want ingenuity or originality; they want something fried and something quick to eat on the way to class. So don’t expect to see anything change in fraternity dining while the sun is up. But when the sun goes down, that is where you will start seeing a change. Dinners at fraternity houses are no longer being dictated by Pasta Wednesdays or Leftover Thursdays, but rather, this new breed of chef treats dinner much more seriously. Dinner is now suddenly turning into French class. Swordfish with some orange shit on it is now turning into Confit D’Oignon. Cultures are moving from the classroom to the stomach as Polynesian ribs and Irish cabbages are introduced into the equation. Suddenly, eating dinner is becoming a class in and of itself. These frat dinners are becoming training grounds for succeeding in the many foreign places where the frat members will eventually end up.
Just because food is becoming more educational, that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. Without security having to worry, handles of alcohol are making their way into the kitchen, where they are now being used to cook the food. The ingenuity of these new chefs is being fully utilized in the form of theme dinners that vary from Medieval Night, where foot long carrots and turkey legs are served without plates to Titanic’s Last Meal, where the last meal served on the first deck on the Titanic is replicated for students. By keeping dinner interesting and fun, these chefs are bringing a sense of camaraderie among the fraternities. Rarely is the whole fraternity ever in the same place, except for dinner, and dinner is one of the few times that you actually spend time with people other than your inner circle of friends. By creating a fun and exciting atmosphere around dinner, these chefs are giving these relative strangers a shared experience to talk about at dinner. I know this seems like it’s going a little too far, but believe me, theme dinners can dissipate even the most contentious of intra-fraternity rivalries.
There is still a learning curve for these new chefs. Coming from restaurants instead of other fraternities, these chefs are not akin to serving a large quantity of food to be eaten buffet style. This causes a change in the process, and creates some bumps along the way, especially when serving nioki…not that I’m complaining.
Still, there is an essential element to this revolution that is vital in saving the fraternity process. It’s no secret that the fraternity system is slowly dying here at Washington and Lee. Whether we talk about years or decades, the fraternity system will be eventually phased out of the W&L culture. To stop this trend, there either needs to be a huge event preventing fraternities from ever leaving, or there needs to be a series of small events that will prolong fraternity extinction or keep it living for a long period of time. I don’t really see how one big event can permanently save fraternities, especially with such a big faction of Lexington vehemently opposing the tradition.
Although this little revolution won’t save fraternities by itself, the emergence of passionate fraternity chefs is absolutely vital to saving the fraternity system because their actions bring out the best that fraternities have to offer. See, fraternities are all about cultivation. The idea behind them is that these institutions cultivate old boys into young men. Their advertised product is a civilized, mature young man who is both knowledgeable of the world around him and the people he interacts with. By introducing them to proper cuisine and proper dining habits, these chefs are cultivating the old boy into an erudite food consumer. Business is not just done in offices but on playing fields and restaurants. Parents hire golf, tennis, and squash coaches for specific reasons; shouldn’t they also entrust their children to a kind of teaching that will let their kids learn about what it means to order the right food.
Furthermore, unlike the vast educational institutions which also advertise cultivation of the demeanor as much as cultivation of the intellect (the Honor Code’s roll in W&L recruitment is a good example), fraternities claim to cultivate the man through close, personal interactions that the educational institutions cannot provide. Fraternities are supposed to aid you in becoming the man you want to be. So if you are interested in the culinary arts as a fad, hobby, or even a profession, how is micro-waved General Tso’s Chicken enticing you in any way to develop that interest? By throwing themselves passionately into their profession, these new chefs are enticing their fraternity members to unearth a hidden interest in the culinary arts.
Finally, these chefs are creating the cultivated man by serving as teachers. When I came to college, my parents advised me to take at least one economics and accounting class, not because they wanted me to sell my soul and become an accountant, but because they thought it was important that I know how to manage my money. Well, these fraternity chefs are now teaching their profession to their students, the fraternity members, not because there are aspiring cooks in the audience but because every cultivated man needs to know how to cook at least something himself to survive.
These three factors these new chefs are bringing to the table are exclusive to the Greek system. D-Hall has too many students to feed to experiment and work with students, and the Co-Op and Hillel House grill don’t serve dinners the same way. These new chefs are bringing with them a new fraternity culture of camaraderie and culinary appreciation. Maybe this won’t block the sea of anti-fraternity sentiment, but it has helped slow the tide and made fraternity life a much more positive experience. And even though we are not at the promised land of fraternity cooking yet, the future is smelling mighty delicious.