Tufts foodies: Student cooks and bakers stir up community on campus

by Ilsiia Shakirova
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It’s no secret that food unites college students together. Whether it be that microwaved cup of oatmeal before your 8 a.m. lab, that post-stats exam instant ramen or your favorite flavor of Lays potato chips as you plow through the 200 pages for your history class, the presence of all sorts of foods keeps college kids going. 

Although it’s easy to overlook food’s humongous significance in our lives, many Tufts students continue to pride themselves on the exploration of different cuisines. Many students experiment from the comfort of their dorm kitchen. Others throw together repurposed meals made from the dining halls. Some have even founded groups that embrace passionate foodmakers all in one space. Regardless, the hidden cooks, bakers and chefs of Tufts form an interconnected network of “foodies” that continuously stir up a variety of cuisine, enriching Tufts’ collective campus community.

Danny Gant, a senior studying Astrophysics, is a cook at heart. With his family full of cooks and chefs, Gant was exposed to cooking at a young age. Gant explained how he finds particular joy making his food from scratch. 

“If I’m making a pizza, I could just go to the store, buy some dough, grab some sauce and all that, and whatnot. But I like to make my own dough, I find it very fulfilling to make things,” Gant said.

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Gant shared his love for cooking certain dishes, particularly stews.

“I like stews. I like chicken stew. I also like steak, [I] love steak. If my pockets are willing, some oxtail stew, the oxtails are delicious,” Gant said.

Gant explained how the different woes of being a college student brought with it some unique challenges when it came to cooking.

“One of the things that I’ve learned is to never leave your food in your fridge during the breaks. I learned that the hard way because freshman year, over Thanksgiving break, I had some chicken in my freezer. And for whatever reason they decided to cut power to my room, … so I left my chicken in the fridge and came back and it [smelled] of rotten raw chicken,” Gant said.

As a resident in the Tufts Africana Center this year, Gant occasionally enjoys sharing his new creations with his peers.

“Sometimes I do like to cook for others. Because you know, everyone should be able to have something tasty … one time I made some honey buns and just left them out for people to enjoy,” Gant said.

In a similar vein as Gant, Toby Zuckerberg, a first-year at Tufts, loves to make food for those around him. 

“It feels really good to be able to give something to people that is just so lovely,” Zuckerberg said. “Like [when] somebody’s sick, I can make them chicken soup. And people, I think, are really touched by that. It allows you to affect people in a really, really lovely way.”

Zuckerberg grew up surrounded by lots of family in New York City. He described how his family dinners involved lots of homemade food, and that his experiences first introduced to him the idea of cooking as a means for camaraderie.

“At home [we] have a lot of cooks in my family, just like home cooks and people who love food. And so, growing up, we had Shabbat dinners every Friday night and like we were communing around the table and we’d have really great discussions with friends and family and stuff. But it was about the food what kind of got you there,” Zuckerberg said.

Spending time at boarding school and working in England during a gap year, Zuckerberg developed a love for bread-making and started to make large swaths of bread, particularly Challah. Zuckerberg described his love for bread in detail.

“Every part of the bread process is super satisfying. Like it’s just really fun to touch and play with,” Zuckerberg said. “I think it’s magical food in that it is very much greater than the sum of its parts. At its simplest, it’s flour, salt, water and yeast. And you can get yeast from the air. And like, you just kind of put them together, and it becomes something I think really, really cool.”

Zuckerberg shared how his cooking experience at Tufts was delayed for two months while living in temporary housing this fall. Zuckerberg detailed how the inability to cook took a toll on him.

“It was really annoying, like to go two months where I can’t cook anything. It’s just kind of stressful … [cooking] is a relaxing thing for me, it’s very meditative,” Zuckerberg said.

Now, fully moved into The Court at Professor’s Row, Zuckerberg has taken up baking again and now makes food for his friends and other residents. Zuckerberg described how the feeling of cooking for others resonated with his upbringing.

“I really love how I can do what my parents did and what my family’s done and create a space to be together through cooking, through food,” Zuckerberg said. 

While Zuckerberg continues to make food in his dorm kitchen for his fellow dorm mates, other students have taken it upon themselves to create entire groups based around their collective love for food. 

Megan Houchin, a Tufts senior studying biomedical engineering, co-founded the Palmier, Tufts’ culinary magazine. With her friend, Holden Dahlerbruch, they built the magazine from scratch together in 2020.

“I’ve always loved creative writing, I love being able to get so many different people who are passionate about food, and taking pictures of food, and everything related to food together, I just loved the entire idea. So I was like, ‘alright, we’re going to create this, and it’s going to be a club,’” Houchin said.

Houchin shared that the Palmier focuses on all aspects of food as a magazine. Whether it be the more chemical, scientific basis of foods, personal experiences with food or sharing recipes, she emphasized that the Palmier provides an open environment for foodie expression.

Houchin elaborated on how the Tufts community can engage with the magazine.

“One of my favorite pieces actually was in the Coffee Edition … it was this really cute story about what the type of milk you drink says about you,” Houchin said. “It was called, ‘Falling in Love with Coffee,’ and just having that added to the edition, I think, just really warmed my heart. … I think that’s really what we’ve been trying to do is try and encapsulate everyone’s voice, encapsulate everyone’s experiences and backgrounds in food.”

Houchin continued to describe many of the community events the Palmier organizes for its staff. 

“We’ve had picnics on Prez lawn. I’ve had people over at my house before. And we’ll just eat together, cook together. … And there have been some really cute times where we’ve had some brunches at other people’s houses, which is really cute,” Houchin said.

In spirit with this home-based community bonding, another founding member of the Palmier, Jackson Ronald, a senior, co-founded Foodie House, Tufts’ only Culinary Residential Community. In partnership with Dahlerbruch, the tandem started the house with separate goals that worked together to create an enriched living space.

“What we really wanted to do is just kind of create a collaborative food space, and explore different cultures, different mediums of food, just everything food related, and try and bring it into like a college campus,” Ronald said. “And so Holden’s side is very much trying to explore different cultures, different textures, flavors, whatever that might be. And then my side is a little bit more of just trying to explore food issues and food security.”

Ronald described the bustling atmosphere of the kitchen. When you step into Foodie House, there’s almost never someone not cooking something. 

“Our dishrack is just always a pile, because everyone’s either cleaning something or putting something away. But then the next morning, everyone’s cooking again. And so it’s a constant cycle,” Ronald said. “Our counter space is pretty much filled with … food, whether it be fruit, or bread or something or appliances to help; it’s more likely you’re gonna walk into our house and just smell someone cooking.”

In addition to weekly dinners and in-house bonding events, Foodie House also sponsors many food related events in conjunction with other groups on campus.

“We worked with International House and International House of Pancakes in which we did a pancake for each continent. … We’ve done several movie nights. … We cooked all the food for the German house Oktoberfest cultural event,” Ronald said.

Through all of the events and intense organization that comes with leading Foodie House, Ronald explained that, at its essence, it serves as a place where he can make himself and other people around him happy. 

“For me, food is definitely just a de-stressor. Like if I’m able to go into the kitchen and cook for an hour that just calms me down. I’m able to just get right back into work. And then also during that process, I also make something delicious that I can eat, which also helps because food makes everyone happy,” Ronald said.

In addition to serving as a de-stressor, Gant added how everyone at Tufts should learn how to make food.

“Everyone should take the time and learn how to cook something. And as long as you like, do a little trial and error, if you have to, but everyone should know how to cook. It’s like one of those basic life skills,” Gant said.

Above all else, Zuckerberg explained that, for him, the community aspect of food is what drives his motivation to bake in general.

“I think the community is honestly the biggest part of it for me. … It’s so much more fun [to cook], even if it’s bad, if you’re in the common room and everyone’s just listening to music and talking,” Zuckerberg said. “[Food] allows you to affect people in a really, really lovely way. Which is something few things can do.”

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