UVic Torch -- Spring 2003
Spring 2003,
Volume 24, Number 1

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Resident Gourmets
Photography by GREGG ELIGH

In the kitchens of campus housing units, a savoury trend overtakes the burgers-and-pizza stereotype.

IT'S FRIDAY NIGHT AND MELANIE GENDRE is slicing zucchini beside a large stainless steel saucepan where fresh vegetables simmer in a sauce made with French herbs. The kitchen is warm and has the sweet and heady aroma of red wine. The essence of eggplants and tomatoes rises in the hot steam from the pot, complementing the rich scent of beef in the air. Gendre adds the zucchini with a splash into the hodgepodge of yellows, oranges and purples already in the saucepan. She’s preparing for a dinner party. Her guests—five hungry friends—will arrive in less than 30 minutes. On the menu is ratatouille stew, her variation on the famous Provençal vegetable dish. She’s also cooking boeuf bourguignon, a slow roast of beef in red wine sauce with carrots, potatoes and herbs to be served with green salad and hearty French bread. “It’s a lot of cooking. It takes all day sometimes,” she says. “But I like to have friends over for dinner.”

An international student from France, Gendre is in her fourth year of astrophysics. This is her first time living on her own and so far cooking is, well, a piece of cake. “I always like to cook. When you cook [for] yourself, you appreciate what you eat more and then you will eat less and slower, which will also help me control my weight.” Gendre also bakes from scratch and, once in a while, has crêpe parties with friends.

Yarrow Anders who, like Gendre, lives in UVic’s cluster housing, also finds that cooking on her own isn’t as difficult as she anticipated. Her specialty is stir-fry. “I like experimenting in the kitchen,” she says. She’s learned to make sweet potatoes, curries and sushi since living on her own.

Does this all sound strange and distant from the image of a student eating cold pizza among McDonald’s wrappers and empty pop cans by the TV Guide? Gendre and Anders are examples of what may be a growing trend. For different reasons, more and more students living on their own for the first time are opting to cook for themselves rather than become burger junkies. “The stereotype is outdated. Students are more health conscious,” says Liisa Gibson, a residence life co-ordinator in housing, food and conference services. Ina Bureau, manager of resident dining production and catering services, agrees: “There is no doubt that over the past ten years, students have become more aware of their nutritional needs.” She plans the menu for over 1,000 students living on campus and says it is routinely updated to reflect the changing tastes of students. The menu now includes more vegetarian options and a pasta bar.

In an informal survey of 80 students living in residence, more than 70 percent said they preferred to eat at home rather than out. The average student ate dinner at restaurants was three to four times a month.

Eating at home is more economical than dining out. Gendre and Anders also use cooking to channel unwanted stress. “I like being in control of what’s going on in my food. I enjoy cooking, I find it calming,” says Anders. “It’s a fun time at our place; we can just relax and talk about our day.” Gendre says she has to cook during exam week because it’s the only way to get a grip on her anxiety levels.

Meanwhile, with her dinner almost ready and guests due to arrive at any moment, Gendre sets her table: yellow dinner napkins, sparkling stemware and even a few flowers she picked on her way to class earlier in the day. She checks on her ratatouille stew, fills a glass half way, and adds water to the simmering vegetables. She glances at her watch. “It’s going to be fun.”

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