Kind of like Julie & Julia… get it?
Yesterday, I was honored to be the guest of Carson-Newman College’s family and consumer sciences dean, Dr. Kitty Coffey. She and her faculty arranged an event in which their nutrition and dietetics students prepared recipes from my cookbooks and served them to a group of faculty and guests. Later, I spoke to a group that included the Student Dietetics club, as well as faculty and students, followed by a book signing.
What a revelation! In addition to the students’ thorough professionalism, I also admired their courage. They carefully tested and retested several recipes before settling on our menu — vegetable paella and apple crisp with ice cream. Both were delicious, but these budding food scientists, focused on healthy, nutritious eating, were also game enough to test the deep-fried Oreos recipe from Atlanta Classic Desserts, before deciding that serving such a time-sensitive dish in that setting would be too risky. (Good decision, students — it would have been like parceling out cold Krispy Kremes.)
If you’re my age, you remember when classes like these were called “home ec.” Under Dr. Coffey’s direction, her students are exposed to professionals in their fields, from interior design to food writing. She says she wants to show them they have career options apart from health care and institutional work. In addition, she teamed with former CN adjunct Dr. Beverly Hammond, now an engineer and designer at Thermador’s factory in nearby La Follette, Tenn., to equip her department’s building with an astonishing array of Thermador professional stoves, Bosch dishwashers and refrigerators — a donation valued at about $250,000. These kitchens — with beautiful cabinetry and countertops donated by Knoxville cabinetmakers — would make Martha Stewart salivate. Carson-Newman’s food lab and test kitchens (they also evaluated stoves and ranges for Thermador before they go on the market) are the only such beneficiaries of Thermador’s largesse in North America.
A word here about Dr. Coffey, a woman I deeply admire. She is the best kind of powerful Southern matriarch — her love for the students, and theirs for her, is palpable. Petite, stylish and well-mannered as I am gangly and blunt, she has garnered influence and recognition for her own work, but always uses it to her students’ greatest benefit. When we met her before the event, she was red-eyed after reading an student’s moving essay. By the time we sat down to dinner at the beautifully set table, with Dr. Coffey at one end of the table, Dr. Hammond at the other, my art professor husband nearby (placed by strict etiquette rules apart from me) and students between us, the event had the feel of a real dinner party, from the students’ pearls and chic clothes to the yarns we all told.
After the students served us, they sat rapt through my short, and somewhat rambly talk, before asking several smart questions. They seemed pleased with the event overall, but couldn’t possibly have enjoyed it as much as I did. If any of you read this, and you ever need restaurant recommendations in Atlanta, please send me an email and I will make some suggestions for you. You students have some important work ahead of you — educating and feeding America as it begins to unlearn decades of unhealthy, unsustainable practices. I’m excited that these talented, capable, passionate students will be working toward changing our foodways for the better.