Last Sunday, Jessica Evett-Miller, a program coordinator at the Johnson Museum, led a crowd of 30 on a tour of agricultural art from the pre-Columbian era to the present, but this was only an appetizer before the main course — a series of five edible samples designed by Levi Austin ’14, a student in the Hotel School, to span the history of agriculture.
Although the utilitarian presentation in plastic cups gave the food a less striking appearance than the paintings, Austin’s menu made up for it with creative uses of flavor and texture. On paper the sample “Multi-Fashioned Corn” sounded like an exercise in replicating an ancient Aztec diet, but in practice the combination of creamy corn glace, crunchy popped corn and grainy cornbread overcame the monotony of its main ingredient to create a tasty, original dish. A sprinkling of shredded Parmesan cheese rounded out the flavor.
Another highlight was “Foraging Earth,” which focused on foods found naturally in the wild. Bits of seared mushroom were salty but not overbearing and formed the base of the dish. Truffles also featured prominently in the sample as black truffle emulsion and truffle panko.
The most seasonal dish was “Harvesting,” which made a fitting Halloween treat. The smooth pumpkin mousse was delicious on its own merits, but it tasted best when mixed with the fig glaze. The chunky glaze was tart, but didn’t overpower the mousse.
It sounds like faint praise to say that Austin’s dishes were among the best free samples I’ve tasted at Cornell, but anyone who’s spent time scouting Ho Plaza or post-lecture receptions knows that the competition is fierce. Austin’s menu juxtaposed familiar ingredients in unfamiliar ways to create tasty new combinations.