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Brown's lengthy winter break leaves students with a whole lot of free time to fill. Cooking was never my forte, but I decided to give it a try. My ultimate goal: return to Brown for the spring semester proficient in all culinary activities, from purchasing proper ingredients, finding recipes on the Internet, working kitchen machinery and cooking delicious meals. It's a skill that everyone should know, not to mention one that the spirit of the University's liberal arts education should embrace.

Unfortunately, Brown does not have adequate space for students to hone the essential art of cooking. The majority of students reside in dorms. Some residence halls' "kitchens" have recently been converted into dorm rooms, while others have mold growing from the counters. One, in Olney House, has been converted into a party spot, sporting a full-sized bar and speaker system. Freshmen dorm kitchens, such as those in Keeney Quadrangle, lack pots and pans and smell like warm beer after nights of abuse. Throughout my time here at Brown, I have attempted to cook in a University-owned kitchen on multiple occasions, only to find myself disappointed. On one try in an attempt to cook a festive dinner during the holidays, I was left unsettled by ants in the cabinets and deemed the location an unsanitary cooking space. Another try to make a simple pasta dish featured a four-person line for the oven in one Keeney kitchen: the only kitchen allocated to students residing in five floors of dorm rooms. Unsanitary and overcrowded conditions are obviously big problems. The University needs to alter its long-term plan and current policies to make student kitchens more accessible.

There are indeed decent accommodations with kitchens in apartment style rooms, such as the Barbour Hall apartments and freshman dorms with respectable kitchen spaces such as New Pembroke. Those rooms are, however, extremely limited, and a low lottery number or unlucky freshmen dorm assignment prevents students from living there, not to mention that Barbour's apartments cost more than an extra $1,000 per year. Another possibility is to live off-campus, but Brown mandates that all sophomores and juniors reside on campus despite the current lack of space and already converted "kitchens" and common rooms. Cooking, eating and living in a Cooperative House is an option, but nightly scheduled dinners and vegetarian restrictions make this option unfeasible for most.  

Brown desperately needs to provide students with the means to cook meals on their own. The Liberal Learning Goals of the University are not only easily adaptable to the cooking experience, but the process of preparing, creating and evaluating a meal actively achieves them. First, cooking fosters independence — it enables the chef to choose his own path, experience a plethora of different ethnic foods, designs and tastes in every meal. The chef must also learn about the food he is using, how to be economically efficient in obtaining ingredients and follow a structured "scientific" recipe. Sometimes he must be creative, adapt to adverse situations with the kitchen appliances or concentrate on the appearance of the meal. He learns from experience, studying his past experiences to improve upon and apply what he has discovered in his next attempt. In addition, cooking enables students to understand where their food intake is coming from, as well as what corporations and farms they are supporting. Cooking is often done with roommates or friends, where members of a group collaborate with each other to reach a common goal. Ultimately, cooking stimulates the mind, much like attending a lecture or reading a textbook. Independence, evaluation, learning from experience, enhancing one's aesthetic sensibility, experiencing scientific inquiries and collaboration are all core principles of the Brown education, and cooking meets every criterion.

Cooking is a household activity that every single Brown student will eventually have to know, and Brown ought to provide students with adequate spaces for it. The University's next dorm improvement project needs to include additional kitchen space, and facilities must begin to clean current kitchens more thoroughly. If Brown cannot guarantee these standards, they should not only allow, but also encourage off-campus living for students to gain culinary experience. Furthermore, they should consider offering a basic culinary class, or at least partner with Johnson and Wales University to allow Brown students to cross-enroll in one of the strongest culinary schools in the country. Regardless of the means it might ultimately employ, Brown is obligated to ensure its students are prepared for the future. It is our job now to let the University know that we applied and enrolled at Brown to be independent, liberal learners who explore new things and handle adverse situations — even outside the classroom and in the kitchen. 

 

 

Steven Chizen '14 one day wishes to be an Iron Chef. If you want a Chizen cooked meal, email him at 

steven_chizen@brown.edu.


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