May 6, 2018

PARK | Letter of Recommendation for Okenshields

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Last week, in a moment of hunger and desperation, I went to Okenshields. Like most members of our campus, I had written-off this meme of a dining hall. Thanks to my pecuniary-minded friend, Gabe, I put some faith in “A Night of Chocolate and Intuitive Eating.” [For those who know what “intuitive eating” means, I would love some clarification because nothing about Okes is intuitive]. For the uninitiated, Okenshields is a medieval-style dining hall at the heart of campus named after a Lord of the Rings dwarf, guarded by the happiest man at Cornell, filled with gothic chandeliers boasting an sundry assortment of salad, grains and Asian food with walls covered in black and white photos of Cornell’s history and 2000s throwbacks booming from the ceiling. And they take swipes.

Okes has been widely regarded as the armpit of our dining halls, comparable to Internet Explorer of web browsers; Cornell of the Ivies. Ostensibly, the distaste for this dining hall lies in its long lines and questionable cuisine. While it may not have the variety of Trillium or the artsy aesthetic of Zeus, this is no mere dining hall; this is a fully-immersive, transcendent, dining experience.

Upon descending the stairs in Willard Straight in the heart of Cornell, you’ll come face-to-face with the man who stole the heart of Cornell. After Happy Dave swipes you in, you’ll enter a room that doesn’t look like it’s been updated in quite a few decades, despite being renovated last year. With specially-designed rectangular Asian plates, illustrious attempts at hiding the fact that quinoa tastes like flavored dirt and dissonant burnt orange back room with a TV for those who don’t even want to pretend that they’re not eating alone, there is something for everyone.

As you enter the Healthy Harvest line spanning the length of the room to assess today’s variety of grains, you may even be lucky enough to find yourself waiting behind that girl from your FWS you used to know. You’ll contemplate saying “Hi,” but will remember all the times you told her “let’s get lunch” and decided not to give her the opportunity to take you up on the offer.

Okenshields’ food quality can be controversial, but their 4/5 star rating on Yelp speaks volumes. Take it from celebrated food critic Ashudeep S. who lauded the food as “really hygienic and healthy,” which is all you can really ask for in your food. Esteemed Yelp-er Chun J. described the almost magical power of Okenshields to “cook all the things the same flavor.” Powerful stuff. Catherine W. gave it 3 stars and said to walk to West, but pay her no mind. I love the fact that they serve Fresh Summer Squash in the Spring, which means they must be lying about the fresh or the summer, as well as Jamaican Jerk Chicken, which is a pretty accurate description of my last boyfriend.

However, in the words of reconsidered Yelp critic Catherine W, sometimes it feels like it’s “definitely the worst.” Sometimes it’s impossible to stomach. Sometimes it makes you want to walk out the door and never return only to remember you already swiped away $15.70 to Happy Dave when you entered. Okenshields is quintessentially Cornellian — it is often surprising and sometimes terrible, but every now and then, it’s truly great.

“A Night of Chocolate and Intuitive Eating” was not one of those times. I hold that chocolate does not belong in Butternut Squash Bisque. I also hold that squash belongs in its solid form. Despite my failed venture into intuitive eating, I got to enjoy the simple luxury of eating dinner with a friend.

Because sitting there as my favorite soon-to-be Cornell alum got so deeply and personally offended over the fact that someone would ruin perfectly good cocoa and coffee by rubbing it on a pork loin with whatever demi glaze is, I couldn’t help but think about how lucky I am to be here. And how lucky I am to have such a weird and wonderful friend and mentor to guide me the mess of Student Assembly as passionately as he deems each new plate of chocolate-infused food inedible.

There is a surprising, comforting nostalgia about Okenshields. Maybe it doesn’t live up to its promise of “a buffet-style gourmet meal” or “authentic New York-style pizza” just as Cornell doesn’t fully live up to its promise of “any person, any study” or a truly “diverse student body” beyond the two counties of Long Island.

But in a few weeks we’ll say goodbye to our dear imperfect Cornell for a summer, a year, or forever. This means no more hikes up the slope in the snow, no more midnight conversations in Libe, no more 1am walks home from Loco and 2am walks home from Olin We will miss the things that brought us together — the good and bad alike — like watching Happy Dave bop to some 2000s banger or uniting over something so universally hated. So in the next few weeks, I recommend giving Okenshields a try, even if it’s just because you’re out of BRBs.

Sarah Park is a sophomore in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. She can be reached at sarahpark@cornellsun.com. S*Park Notes runs alternate Mondays.