Eating like the Romans at SUNY Buffalo

Caesar was a focus of a recent event at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo—and we’re not talking about the salad. SUNY Buffalo students got to eat like Julius Caesar and more at the Eat Like a Roman event held in the spring. In collaboration with the university’s department of classics, the dining services department prepared a menu of items eaten during Roman times, scaling up recipes from ancient Roman cookbooks, like “Apicus” and “Roman Cookery,” for the event.

A class on ancient Roman cuisine held by the department of classics inspired the event. The class met weekly to discuss, cook and eat ancient Roman recipes. The classics department suggested an event with dining services and provided the cookbooks from which the event’s menu was developed.

The menu included Cinnamon Lamb Soup, Chicken Pottage with Meatballs, Olive and Celery Paté, Melon with Mint Dressing, Baked Ham with Figs and Spring Cabbage with Cumin. The items required sourcing of multiple ingredients, many of which were difficult to find. “If we couldn’t find a spice or a certain flour that they used back then, we would try to find something similar, and a lot of the spices come from Indian and European cuisine now,” explains Lauren Brantley, general manager of the Crossroads Culinary Center, where the event was held.

The event encompassed more than the menu. A local production company decorated the dining hall with props saved from past festivals, Roman pillars and greenery, transforming the space to align with the theme. Dining services staff dressed in togas and held toga-wrapping sessions, and students came dressed in Roman and soldier garb. A member of the university’s Latin department acted as the event’s greeter, welcoming students in the ancient language as they entered the hall.

With nearly 1,800 students in attendance, the event was a success and one that the university hopes to do again.

“The class was originally going to be a one-time thing, but after the event was over the professors said maybe we’ll take it to the next level next year because the students responded really well to it,” Brantley says. “We’ll put a little twist on it or do something different, but I think it opened it up for the university to have that relationship with the actual departments, so we’re hoping that more classes and department heads will get involved.” 

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