ALLIANCE, Ohio—At 2,200-student University of Mount Union, Dining Services took departing seniors on a “culinary cruise” for an end-of-the-year progressive dinner.
Danielle Cunningham, resident director for Avi Fresh at the university, said the idea came about when the university president’s wife expressed a desire to create an annual event for graduating seniors.
“[The president’s wife and I] were talking and the idea for an annual event came up and then I thought about how I would love to do a progressive dinner at different places on campus,” Cunningham said. “From that point the idea evolved into a cruise theme where each spot would be a different country. We had live music and decorations at each stop to correspond with the correct country.
“We had a contest to select 14 seniors to participate,” Cunningham said. “We had a huge cylinder of seashells and the students had to guess how many were in it. So the 14 closest guesses got to come to the dinner. We thought about having them submit an essay, but since it was the first year we decided to keep it simple. Next year we’ll do something different to select the students.”
The culinary cruise made “stops” in five different countries: Thailand, France, Panama, Greece and Norway. Participants traveled by bus between the different locations on campus. The department gave participating students a passport with their photo inside. At each stop on the cruise, Dining Services staff stamped the students’ passport with a stamp reflective of the country visited.
The first stop on the cruise was the university’s Welcome Center, which was transformed into Thailand. The menu focused on appetizers and included dishes such as black tea brined pork tenderloin on a deep-fried egg with teriyaki glaze, slow-roasted duck on banana coconut sticky rice topped with coconut curry sauce, vegetable spring rolls, and chilled Thai noodle soup with seared bay scallops, fried baby basil leaf and red pepper confetti.
The second stop, at the university’s library, took the group to France, where they were offered Dover sole with lobster mousseline topped with a lobster reduction, served with butter poached fingerling purple potatoes and roasted baby carrots.
Next the cruisers arrived in Panama, which was located at the university’s new athletic center. The menu consisted of chile rellenos served with fried yucca root and plantain chips with citrus roasted pork.
For the final entrée course, the group arrived in Greece—the university president’s home—where they feasted on wild mushroom gnocchi and lamb medallions topped with red wine demi glace, served with white asparagus and a truffle vinaigrette.
For dessert the group visited Norway, which was at the university’s administration building. Here they were served a Norwegian omelet (Baked Alaska), which was flambéed tableside.
Despite the success of the event, there were challenges with coordinating so many locations, said Cunningham.
“We are planning to do it again at the end of the year with different countries and different locations on campus,” Cunningham said. “It’s a great way to feature the newest buildings on campus. To make things easier next time I think we are going to assign a different chef to each course and let him own that course and menu. It seemed like the management team tried to take on a little too much, so if we let everyone pick what they want to do and execute it that way it would go much smoother. That was a big challenge. Another was staffing. We didn’t really think about the fact that we had limited servers, so we had to get a golf cart and shoot them off to the next location before the group arrived.”
As for this year’s event, Cunningham said there was a clear favorite of the night.
“The group voted at the conclusion of the evening and Panama was their favorite country,” Cunningham said. “They said they enjoyed the menu and decor the best. I believe the event was successful because it is something completely different than any event we have done on campus. It was even more memorable because it was a senior send off. I had one student claim that, as we were driving around campus from location to location, it suddenly became real to him that he was leaving Mount Union and entering the ‘real world.’”