Mastering the art of cooking in college: a step-by-step guide

by Han Vale | 9/22/17 12:00am

Experienced cooks know that a good plan is essential to culinary success. The ability to think ahead, work quickly and neatly and manage time efficiently makes both cooking and the completed dish excellent. So much so that in professional cooking, the quality of one’s mise en place, loosely translating to “everything in its place” — meaning items, ingredients, motions and timing — quickly distinguishes the best from the rest. Yet, even for the seasoned chef, cooking at college can present sets of new challenges that can make even a simple plan needlessly complex.  

For students, there’s broken heating coils and wonky oven shelves to deal with along with limited counter space — and is that plate actually clean? Sourcing specific ingredients, navigating dorm-specific spaces and having the right equipment can also all pose initial problems that make cooking difficult. But, even with these added challenges, the biggest piece of advice I have is cook! Cook for yourself, cook for your friends, cook to learn and generate community, cook to procrastinate … Just cook!

This week, The Dartmouth put together a guide of resources and advice to help you cook like a pro, even in college.

Firstly, it’s important to find resources. Food exists at the intersection of many socioeconomic realities. If you wish to cook for a group of Dartmouth community members but find the cost, especially while already paying for a meal plan, difficult, apply for funding through Student-Initiated Programs to receive aid to cover the costs of ingredients and some small equipment. 

“SIPS gave me the resources to make food for my entire floor,” Sophie Palmer ’20 said. “At the beginning of the year, I made crepes for about 20 people without the barrier of having to pay. It ended up being a wonderful event that I continued throughout the term.” 

Another low-cost way to cook and save time is to plan around the equipment and ingredients you or friends may already have to reduce the cost and effort of having to drive to a nearby store and buy more food.

If you are looking for an ingredient necessary to a dish from a specific culture, this can be tough. Let’s be real — this is New Hampshire. For ingredients essential to some Pan-Indian foods, check out the Asian Super Store in Lebanon. For essential East-Asian ingredients, try Yiping’s Asian Market in West Lebanon. For good local organic produce at little to no charge, volunteer at the Dartmouth Organic Farm via Farm Club. On campus until early October, the Hanover farmer’s market is open from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. every Wednesday and offers a variety of locally grown vegetables, fruit and homemade goods. The Norwich farmer’s market is open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Saturday through October and select Saturdays. November through April for those who want more variety in vendors. 

When Dalia Rodriguez ’18 wanted to cook enchiladas on campus, she was surprised at her success in finding some ingredients. 

“Surprisingly, a lot of stores around here do have the ingredients you’d need, it’s just hard because they have different names,” Rodriguez said. “You can also alternate chilies specifically to some that are similar and available.” 

Lastly, to boil — pun intended — college cooking down, here are seven steps to ensure success.

Step 1: Know your kitchen. Is anything broken? Is the oven 50 degrees cooler than it says? Know this beforehand and try to fix appliances now to avoid frustration later.

Step 2: Be aware of ingredients you already have and equipment you can access.

Step 3: Get ingredients and equipment you need. Unless you have ample storage, buy only enough ingredients to cook each dish once to save money and avoid waste.

Step 4: Clean your surfaces. Also, give that questionable pan a rinse.  

Step 5: Measure and prep! Measure all ingredients out carefully and group them together according to the recipe’s specifics. Doing this will minimize cleanup and equipment needed.

Step 6: Cook it up! 

Step 7: Clean it up! Cleaning as you go will make this step easier.

With practice, you will be able to mix these steps around. You’ll put a berry crisp in the oven to bake, and while it’s baking, simmer your rhubarb-compote, whip some cream and clean it all up just as it’s coming out of the oven. Trust the process. 

This will be the first in a series of cooking-related articles.