Photos and Words by Kelsey Salamone
While the food in our university dining halls is far from horrific, I think most of us can admit that there are some days when the options for dinner seem infuriatingly familiar – a fact that was all too apparent on last Thursday, October 11, when the masses lined up in Warren Towers Dining Hall to try the unique dishes provided for this semester’s Visiting Chef Series.
This fall, the special dishes originated in the mind of Chef Jason Santos, the owner of Blue Inc. Restaurant. But Santos is more than a local chef (his restaurant is located on Broad Street in Boston), he is also a celebrity. In 2010, he was a finalist on the FOX show, “Hell’s Kitchen,” a fact that made the night even more exciting.
So how did the food stack up to expectations? Well, while Blue Inc. dishes were offered in West, Warren, and Marciano Commons dining halls, I only ate at Warren and thus can only comment on the food there. But in my opinion, yes, the night was a success. However, it was a success that contained a number of both highs and lows.
Some of the blunders included the Bacon Cheeseburger Pizza, Toasted Marshmallow Root Beer Float, and Blue Inc. Burger. The pizza contained a nice, soft crust, but it had an odd aftertaste; perhaps it was the cheddar cheese or a “special sauce." My aversion of the Blue Inc. Burger was not due to the cheese, however, but to the addition of a horseradish barbecue sauce. It tasted like molasses and overpowered the other components of the burger.
Then there was the float. While it tasted much better than the other two dishes, it was also the most disappointing of the night. It had originally appeared to be a fun finale, but unfortunately, the ratio of root bear foam to ice cream was faulty, causing the dish to be more like a particularly sweet drink than a dessert. And the toasted marshmallow that accompanied the float was not “toasted,” but quickly torched, making the inside solid and hard to eat.
These dissatisfactions were most likely the result of the major challenge that faced Santos and Dining Services when providing gourmet dishes to a college campus. Blue Inc. Restaurant provides food to crowds of about one hundred people. But for this event Robert Flynn, the Social Media Coordinator at Boston University Dining Services, explained that organizers had to scale the recipes to feed three thousand.
Flynn also said restaurant chefs are surprised when they see the amount of food dining halls serve on a daily basis. "Sometimes they are shocked that we can do it, but…chefs love a challenge.” In the end, Santos displayed this love of a challenge by providing BU students with some delicious dishes, including my favorites of the night: the Buttermilk Fried Chicken, the Rigatoni Carbonara, and the Pumpkin Bread Pudding.
The Blue Inc. Buttermilk Fried Chicken was a perfect answer to a comfort food craving. The breading was crispy, the barbeque syrup was delicious, and the avocado gave the dish a unique quality. The celery root puree provided a distinctive element to the home-style classic, but it was thin for my taste.
The fried chicken just couldn’t compete with my favorite entrée of the night, the Rigatoni Carbonara. A relatively simple dish – pasta, peas, pancetta, and Parmesan cream sauce – it was nonetheless a rich highlight. My only criticism: the small portion provided.
A small portion was similarly my problem with the Pumpkin Bread Pudding, night’s superior dessert. But the dish was perfect for fall--warm, pumpkin spiced and brightened by the accompaniment of a tropical fruit and maple salsa.
Chef Santos' came to BU as part of the historical Visiting Chef Series. According to Flynn, Santos has been preceded by celebrity chefs such as Jaque Pepin and Julia Child, who used to visit BU before the Visiting Chef Series as we know it “got going around the late 90's.” In recent years, however, participants in the program have included “Maggiano's Little Italy, Eastern Standard, Brown Sugar Cafe, Lucca's, Legal Seafoods, Ole, Toro Restaurant, Top of the Hub, Jerry Remy's, The Fireplace, Tasca, Giacomo's, [and] Henrietta's Table.”
As for the identity of the restaurant visiting next semester, Dining Services still doesn’t have a “specific restaurant in mind,” said Flynn. “[But] we are always looking, every time we go out to eat we take little mental notes and think if this would work at BU.”