A popular contest adds students’ favorite dishes to the UMaine menu
Editor’s note: Full-length version of story.
As a young girl in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, Rachel Potter’s favorite meal was Pumpkin Chicken Curry. The recipe had been in her family for generations — her grandmother remembers her own mother serving it. It was a “company dish,” something reserved for potlucks or special occasions, and young Rachel always looked forward to it.
She still does. Today, she’s a graduate student in science education at UMaine, and when Dining Services started the Recipes from Home program in fall 2008, Rachel submitted the recipe and hoped for the best.
“I saw the sign and thought it was a nice thing to do, so I figured I’d put my recipe in the box,” she recalls. “It’s definitely a recipe that’s conducive for being adapted to a dining hall setting. You can make it for two people or you could make it for a huge crowd.”
Pumpkin Chicken Curry made the cut, and last year, Rachel and her parents, Marlene and Duncan Potter, were guests of honor on the night the dish made its debut in York Dining.
“They were really excited and it was totally unexpected,” Rachel Potter says. “We were all joking about it at Thanksgiving that it’s now a standard UMaine dish.”
The program began in 2008 as a way Dining Services staff to get better insight into student preferences and to find out what might be missing from current menus.
“Sometimes, I hear students say there’s nothing to eat, but I figure there’s actually something that isn’t here,” says Judy Smith, a cook in UMaine’s test kitchen. “This gives us a way to figure out what that is.”
Though it serves a practical purpose, the program also makes students feel that their opinion matters and that UMaine truly is their home away from home.
“I think it makes a difference,” Potter says. “It’s not the same sterile atmosphere that you’d expect from a university dining hall, and the Recipes from Home contest fits with that atmosphere. The staff is making an effort to find out what students like and what is comfort food to them and then they serve that.”
The contest has been confined to York Dining, but Dining Services staff plans to set up recipe boxes in other campus eateries, as well, to encourage more student participation. Nearly 50 recipes were submitted in the first year. Some of them weren’t serious, and some were cost-prohibitive. But a handful were featured for a whole meal period. The recipes range from simple casseroles and comfort food to more complex dishes. Several, including Potter’s Pumpkin Chicken Curry, have made the regular menu rotation.
“The students who take it seriously have great ideas for unique, delicious flavors,” says Kerry Chasteen, UMaine’s menu manager.
One of those students, Liza Balzarini of Wareham, Mass., had two recipes chosen — the Liza Lou Panini (apple, cheddar and turkey) and an Italian Panini with chicken, roasted red pepper, onion, pesto and mozzarella cheese.
“My mom was a home ec teacher for 25 years, and when she found out I won, she said, ‘Oh my God, you’re following in my footsteps.’”
Her mom wasn’t the only one who was impressed.
“People were high-fiving me, and when it’s on the menu in Wells Dining, people will come up to me and say, ‘They served your Panini today.’”
Balzarini has both of her Recipes From Home certificates framed in her bedroom at home, but she doesn’t plan to submit any more recipes — time to let someone else have a chance.
“I’m really proud,” she says. “It’s really exciting to think that they still serve my recipe. It’s my legacy.”