"If there's one thing all the guys seem to agree upon, it's milk. Man, do they drink a lot."
When my friends and family learn I'm working as a prep cook at a fraternity house at the University of Washington, I get loads of ribbing. My former boss, Tom Douglas, actually rolled his eyes. A few ask the obvious questions and no, I haven't met anybody named Bluto and I have not tried a keg stand—not yet. (Though this 83-year-old woman is inspiring.)
One of the things I've so appreciated about my time at Alpha Sigma Phi is the opportunity to see some stereotypes shattered. First and foremost, it's a thrill to watch a fraternity kitchen turning out such well-seasoned, from-scratch fare.
And then, there's the guys. The young men I've met are polite, well-spoken and are so appreciative of their cook, Darlene Barnes. (Before classes started, a poster appeared in her kitchen: "We Love You Darlene!") Still, not all of them are on board this delicious bandwagon.
Earlier this week when Darlene grilled hand-cut New York steaks—sourced from Creekstone Farms, which is known for its humane practices—roasted Yukon Gold and purple potatoes (Go Huskies!) along with chanterelles and lobster mushrooms, at least one brother tossed his fungi in the trash.
"Maybe tomorrow I could put out a bowl of caviar for you?" she scolded him on her blog.
"I wish they would try something before taking a bunch of it and throwing it out," she said. "I hate waste."
This week, Darlene challenged some palates with creamed kale ("What is this? Spinach?"), Cajun pork with Dirty Rice (yes, including chicken livers) and Chicken Tagine with house-made harissa. Among my duties this week, I pounded pounds of chicken breasts, which were then seasoned with a mixture of basil, oregano, fennel, black pepper and red pepper flakes. That poultry was grilled on the flat top and turned into chicken Parmesan. If that stuff's just too exotic, there's always peanut butter and jelly.
Lunch is a lot more casual than dinner. Students drift into the dining room between classes for tacos, Sloppy Joes, smoked salmon chowder. Ciabatta rolls drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette and layered with turkey, mozzarella and Genoa salami and then oven-toasted are a house favorite that reminded me a little bit of a muffaletta, especially when I added some of Darlene's homemade pickled peppers. (From a recipe Molly Wizenberg shared in Bon Appetit featured at Delancey, the pizzeria she and her husband, Brandon Pettit, opened this summer.)
If there's one thing all the guys seem to agree on, it's milk. Man, do they drink a lot. Of milk. They go through at least eight gallons a day. Some keep extra in their personal fridges. I cannot remember the last time I drank a glass of milk with a meal. Watching these boys-to-men chugging moo juice makes me want to muss their already mussy bed heads.
Yet, there are encouraging signs some of these guys thirst for more. Recently Nick wandered in the kitchen and asked Darlene what she knew about wine and food pairings. He wanted to learn the basics because he's working at a restaurant and would like to move up from busser to server.
A frat brother interested in the nuances of pouring Pinot Noir alongside salmon? See? Myths busted. I love that!
About the author: Former Seattle Post-Intelligencer restaurant critic Leslie Kelly has been working in professional kitchens since the newspaper folded in March and chronicling her culinary journey from pen to pan for Serious Eats. She also blogs at LeslieKellyWhiningandDining.blogspot.com and recently launched a story-telling project for Northstar Winery following one wine from the vine to the table.