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Offering a few simple recipes for PUDS perfection

Last year, before I'd ever eaten a meal at one of Princeton's dining halls, my OA leader informed my OA group that if dining hall food was ever to improve, a sophomore class — despite the fact that it would be joining eating clubs — would need to push for it. Only during sophomore year are people truly exhausted with the University's Department of Dining Services, but by the time that exhaustion sets in, we've joined eating clubs, and DDS becomes a distant memory.

My class, like every sophomore class preceding it, missed the boat on convincing the University to improve the quality of dining hall food. I, like most of my classmates, am already taking advantage of the few meals a week served at our new clubs. Still, in the spirit of that OA leader's advice, I'm going to abuse my 'Prince' soapbox to offer several ideas for saving the palates of future undergraduates.


First, give us more variety. Much of the dining hall food is actually pretty decent, but after eating the same thing 20 times a month, it cannot still taste good. The dining hall menus are on a rotation so that we encounter the same combination of foods — say pasta with marinara sauce, turkey burgers and falafel — once every few weeks. But the variety of individual dishes leaves something to be desired, and many of those that count separately (pasta with marinara sauce and pasta with pomodoro sauce, for instance) are similar.

Second, make simpler dishes. The kitchen serving the Rocky and Mathey dining halls has to serve nearly a thousand people a day, when you include RAs and the faculty members who occasionally eat there. When cooking for that many people, no kitchen has the time or energy to do justice to complex dishes.

There's simply too much else to do for a dining hall cook to lovingly spice a coq-au-vin or perfectly sear 500 delicately glazed pork chops. Though "almond-crusted yellowtail" might look good on the menu, unless it's cooked lovingly, it won't be that good. Given the number of people the dining halls seek to feed, odds are, it won't be done right. A dining hall could, however, make 500 excellent barbecue chicken quesadillas. I think most of us would take simple, well-prepared dishes over complex, impossible-to-prepare ones.

Third, use higher-quality ingredients. Making simpler recipes should save money — if we're not buying a few hundred filet mignon steaks to overcook, we should have extra money to spend on the ingredients we do buy. Boar's Head deli-meats, for example, really do taste better than off-brand ones. A turkey club sandwich, made with good turkey, good lettuce and good bacon tastes better than a "fancier" dish made with low-grade ingredients.

Fourth, provide more unprepared foods. When we can't find a hot dish we want, we turn to the unprepared foods — the salad bar, fruit bowl, cereal bar and bread bin. More variety with these sorts of foods would help. Try livening up the offerings with cheese, yogurts and maybe Ramen noodles. Any of these, along with bread, could make a light lunch. This would entail very little effort for the dining halls, and it would provide many good lunches for students.

I think that these simple, cost-effective ideas could greatly enhance the quality of Princeton food. The food doesn't have to be bad — other schools, and some of our own dishes, show that. I've met many of the cooks through an SVC project, and I know they're hard working and want to feed us well.


Of course, the best way to improve the quality of Princeton's food would be to throw more money into it. Maybe instead of building the John T. and Mary B. Smith Center for "Whatever Research," an alum could endow the John T. and Mary B. "Better Dining Program." Future generations of students would revere that alum's name. Peter Harrell is from Atlanta, Ga. He can be reached at

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