In a previous post, I discussed what it was like to have lunch at the Fed, but there was no mention of the food, mostly because the Sodexo-run cafeteria, while competent and better than your average corporate cafeteria, mostly catered to the greatest common denominator and offered nothing of blogworthy interest.
Here at the University of Gastronomic Sciences, you can avail yourself of the midday meal service plan for €1000, and be assured a hot lunch every day that you are at school. For the first week of classes, everyone can dine at the canteen, which gives you a chance to try the food and determine whether or not you want to bring your own lunch instead. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but figured that this would be a nicer, more intimate version of Cornell’s dining halls (which were actually pretty good compared to the institutional slop served at most other universities). I definitely did not expect a 3 or 4 course meal, complete with full table service.
The canteen is housed adjacent to the chapel, and features lovely high ceilings with Tudor-style wood beams, fresh flower arrangements and round tables for ten. It opens at 12:15 pm and classes officially resume at 1 pm (though most of the time this doesn’t actually happen till 1:15 or so), which doesn’t give you a whole lot of time to eat four courses.
Start off by pouring yourself a glass of water, frizzante (fizzy) or naturale (still). The bread basket usually features light, airy rolls that shatter when you bite into them. These are okay, but I strongly prefer the multigrain bread slices that were provided one time, a much more flavorful and robust option.
Trays of salad are provided, and they generally include a mix of radicchio, arugula, endive and chicory greens. You can dress them yourself with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. Some other type of fruit or vegetable is provided on the side, and this ranges from pineapple and canned fruit cocktail, to boiled carrots and potatoes.
The first course is always pasta or a pasta-like substance. Above is a plate of pasta with ragu sauce.
For another first course, we were presented with gnocchi (made of potato) with tomato sauce and zucchini. The most uh interesting primo piatti was probably the asparagus risotto, which featured the hardest, most al dente risotto I’d ever tried. Apparently, that is the proper way to cook risotto in northern Italy. I think I’ll stick to my softer, creamier version of risotto.
Second courses usually include some sort of meat or protein, though the portions are far smaller than the typical American entree. This can include beef and roasted potatoes, or a square of frittata, or slices of pork and string beans.
This plate includes several slices of tomato and mashed potatoes with cod mixed in. I thought the idea of mashing fish with potatoes was novel, but not everyone was so eager to dig in.
Probably the most controversial dish was the (raw) beef tartare, served with slices of fennel and carrot and a wedge of boiled egg. Lots of people wrinkled their noses in disgust, either because they were not culturally accustomed to eating raw meat or because the idea of eating environmentally-damaging red meat offended their ecofriendly aesthetics. Personally, I have no problem with eating raw meat (especially sushi), if prepared in reputable places, and I don’t like to waste food, so I was one of the few to clear my plate. This wasn’t the best beef tartare I’ve ever had (could have used more pepper and maybe some capers) but it wasn’t terrible either.
Desserts can range from traditional Piedmontese fare, like the amaretto, caramel and egg custard known as bonet, or simple scoops of gelato hazelnut & vanilla gelato. Pictured here is a tray of berry tart.
All in all, there were some grumblings from the other students about the lunch offerings, but I thought the quality of the lunches was pretty good. It’s also fun to see what sorts of traditional Piedmont dishes they serve, and to see how they incorporate seasonal ingredients. The problem is that there isn’t a lot of choice and you may be stuck with something you don’t particularly care for (beef tartare). Still, I have been bringing my lunch at the Fed for the last 3 years, so it’d be a shame to quit now, and I brought plenty of tupperware with me when I moved. In the end, about 8 or 10 of us decided not to sign up for the meal plan. It remains to be seen if we can get access to a microwave or some sort of heating mechanism, but for now, I am happily bringing salads, fruit and pasta for lunch. We have been convening at a picnic table outside, and holding unofficial potlucks with food-swapping between classmates.