Food can be a terrific window into learning about different cultures, and the team at Duke Dining in Durham, NC, was pleased to host an event that helped students do just that.
They transformed the Marketplace on Duke’s East Campus into a culinary classroom by partnering with a semester-long Humanities Writ Large program called “Subnature and Culinary Culture.” The program casts a spotlight on reclaimed or “subnatured” food sources, those that have fallen out of mainstream use due to shifting cultural norms. Through informative displays, guest speakers, hands-on exhibits, pop-up mini-lectures throughout the evening, and culinary treasures, each guest was wowed with a truly fascinating and unique experience.
Before guests even entered the building, they enjoyed a traditional outdoor, heritage-pig roast of pork smoked on-site by local celebrity pitmaster Ed Mitchell. A few steps away, an exhibit tent for the North Carolina Museum of Natural History hosted famed naturalist Wildman Steve Brill, who discussed foraging and showcased edible items found in the Duke Forest, and Tom Parker, a visiting scholar from Vassar College who offered samples from a traditional smokehouse, plus live insects! The traditional smokehouse was an exhibit unto itself, created so that guests could consider the specific role of smoke in historical and contemporary culture and economy of Southern comestibles.
Upon entering the café, guests were offered hot calas (Creole rice fritters) accompanied by the sounds of live street food callers. Guests gravitated to the traditional Senegalese dishes prepared with the assistance of University of Pennsylvania Sous Chef Fatou Wilson and Cook Mouhamed Mboup. Many were surprised to learn what once connected this cuisine to the region: many Senegalese recipes and ingredients traveled to the Carolinas in the 17th and 18th centuries as part of the slave trade.
The dining rooms had four specific areas of focus: The “Offal” café’s delicacies were created with a snout-to-tail whole-animal approach — another once-mainstream tradition that is coming back into favor. Moving into a focus on terroir, the historical factors that give a food a “taste of place,” the “Stinky Good” café offered samples of traditional caveaged cheeses from the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and from Europe, while a third area offered an assortment of charcuterie, each with its own distinct flavor and history. Lastly, “Café Insectica” served up waxworms, mealworms, and crickets as they are prepared in different customary ways in other countries to show how cultural traditions shape what we’re willing to eat. The students were challenged not to be shocked that they were eating an insect, but to think about why they would be shocked.
The Subnature event was warmly welcomed by the Duke community for its truly unique experience of merging education and palate. All who attended walked away enriched by this very different mode of culinary education.
Submitted by Michael Brownlee, Director of Residential Dining