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5 creative dining events taking place this semester

Themed events allow dining staff to think outside the box and give students and guests a break from the normal routine. Here are five unique events happening across college campuses this semester.

1.  Disaster preparedness dinner

At the University of Richmond in Richmond, Va., students got to enjoy a meal and learn more about safety during disasters at the school’s first disaster preparedness dinner, put on by the dining team and University of Richmond’s police department.

“We were just looking for another opportunity to put personal preparedness in front of our students,” says University of Richmond Chief of Police Dave McCoy when discussing how the idea for the event came about. “We brought the idea to dining services and they loved it, and so together we presented it.”

The team originally planned on showing disaster-themed movies such as “Twister” during the dinner; however, it decided to change gears after a series of tornadoes formed near campus on the Monday before the event. Instead, officials from campus security spoke with the university community about the storms ahead of the meal. Students also had the opportunity to donate or sign up to volunteer for disaster relief through the American Red Cross.

“We wanted to add a place where any student, staff or faculty could approach us and ask us questions about what occurred on Monday,” says McCoy.

university of Richmond

During the dinner, organizers mimicked the living conditions during and after a disaster as closely as possible.

“In order to create the atmosphere of a power outage, we cut the lights overhead off in the buffet area and replaced it with lanterns,” says Vincent Savage, assistant director of residential dining. “We also placed pallets of bottled water in the center of our dining room to remind everyone about the importance of keeping extra water on hand for an emergency.”

After the dinner, more than 100 students participated in a campus-wide scavenger hunt to pick up essential items for a disaster preparedness kit. Students who completed the hunt were entered into a drawing to win an iPad.

2. Jamaican-themed menu

Last month, students at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va., were able to enjoy a Jamaican-themed menu created by line cook Stenton Duncan. His dinner was part of a diversity dinner series during which student groups or dining staff design a menu to showcase food from different cultures.

The menu contained dishes that were Duncan’s favorites during his childhood in Trelawny, Jamaica. Guests got to try menu items such as Jamaican jerk pork, rice with pigeon peas, callaloo and sweet potato pie.

“There were other people that came and ate that were from Jamaica as well or the Caribbean and they said, ‘It reminds me of what my grandmother made,’ and that’s what we wanted,” says executive chef Timothy Grayson. “We wanted that kind of a feel.”

3. One Ton Tomato Challenge

The team of chefs at Washington University in St. Louis took their creativity to the next level at the school’s first-ever One Ton Tomato Challenge.

“I worked with the farmers to get [2,000] pounds of No. 2 tomatoes, which are the ones that are not the best-looking and might have a little scratch or something that traditionally is not supermarket quality, and the big thing of that challenge was: How do we take [2,000] pounds of ugly tomatoes and turn them into something that’s fantastic?” says campus executive chef Patrick McElroy.

Wash U

For one week, chefs used the produce to make different tomato-based specials, such as tomato pie, tomato hummus and tomato flatbread, which were served to students and faculty. McElroy says the event allowed chefs to push their limits while putting the team’s commitment to local and sustainable practices front and center.

“The week was another way in which we highlighted our commitment to the community, commitment to the farmers and our commitment to our sustainable practices,” he says.

4. 'Nightmare Before Christmas'

Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., is no stranger to creative dining events. The school has become known for its elaborate themed dinners, which feature a robust menu complete with full decorations. This November, the dining team is putting on a themed dinner in honor of the film “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”

Guests will be able to enjoy dishes such as a seared salmon and bamboo rice bowl with “frog’s breath” mushroom broth and a drizzle of blood orange marmalade. There will also be an interactive component to the night, such as a spinning wheel that will land on a particular mocktail a guest could then try, says catering manager Bonnie Bertrand.

5. An evening at the farm

This month, the community in and around Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Va., has been invited to take a trip to the school’s farm for its Evening at Homefield Farm dinner.

Now in its third year, the event was created to showcase how sustainability and local food is interwoven into Virginia Tech dining’s program.

“We are always trying to find new ways to share the Virginia Tech dining services story,” says Whitney Engstrom, assistant director of dining services. “Because local foods and sustainable agriculture are both essential components of our story, the farm provided the perfect setting to do just that.”

The menu, which will not be announced until the night of the dinner, will feature seasonal local produce, both from Homefield farm and from other local vendors.

Guests will also be able to enjoy a bonfire, garden tour, lawn games and live music.

Photographs courtesy of respective colleges

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