For one week every semester, Cornell’s dining halls, which are usually uncovered, don table cloths and decorations. The cheeseburgers and tofu disappear in favor of extraordinary foods, many of which may have never been seen in our eateries before. These are the signs of the Cross Country Gourmet (CCG), Cornell’s program to, “bring” restaurants from around the country to Ithaca.
This semester, CCG chose the Flying Fish Cafe, which is a Disney concept built on the Boardwalk of Disneyworld in Orlando, Florida.
Cornell chefs visited the restaurant in September but preparations for CCG began this past Wednesday.
The chefs unpacked thousands of plates and pieces of glassware and hanging golden silhouettes of flying fish attached to white and gold balloons, transforming Trillium into the Flying Fish Cafe for Friday’s sit-down meal. Cornell Dining received a tremendous response to the Flying Fish Cafe.
“There were 425 CCG reservations, 375 of which were students,” said Yvonne Chang, catering operations manager.
Students with the Superflex meal plan receive complimentary tickets to the CCG. The meal costs $23 for all other patrons. A local Ithaca jazz group provided live music and Cornell Catering staff waited tables.
CCG has been running for over a decade and has attracted restaurants with selections ranging from the diverse menu of Emeril’s to the French-Cambodian selection Elephant Walk and from locations as disparate as Louisiana and Harlem.
“The restaurants are selected for their uniqueness and fame, so students have the satisfaction of having a four-star restaurant on their campus” Chang said.
Members of Cornell’s chef staff select about 20 restaurants to whom they send letters explaining CCG. Of the restaurants that express interest in the program, the staff chooses who to invite.
Cornell then sends chefs to the restaurant for a few days to learn recipes, study the presentation of dishes and absorb the atmosphere. When Cornell’s chefs return they reproduce the restaurant in Trillium for the first night of CCG. The program borrows selections from the original menu as well as elements of decor and presentation in order to mimic the restaurant.
“We try to reproduce the restaurant as exactly as possible,” Chang said. “We didn’t have their napkins so we flew them in.”
Although this program is unique to Cornell, it is not unusual for restaurants to have chefs visit other restaurants, according to Jack Applegarth, sous chef at Jansen’s. Applegarth, a member of Cornell’s cooking staff for the past 16 years, has been sent to research restaurants for CCG for the past two years.
“CCG is good experience,” Applegarth said. “It’s more like restaurant work because more food is prepared by hand, we get to work with new recipes and it encourages teamwork.”
The walls in each of the dining units CCG will visit are covered with recipes, with each recipe assigned to members of each dining staff. Because of the limited menu it is important that all members do their jobs to make the meal a success.
The dining staff also learns new styles of presenting food and adds recipes to its repertoire. In addition to giving benefits for the dining staff, CCG brings good publicity to the represented restaurant as well.
At the end of every CCG, the dining staff still has hours of work ahead of them. They needed to repackage all of their plates and glassware, return Trillium to its original form and prepare to take the CCG to other dining units, which presents problems.
In the other dining halls, food has to be produced for a greater number of customers. There are issues involving how to lay out the food in order to make it efficient for students and staff members to prepare and eat. Due to a number of financial cutbacks, Cornell dining workers feel pressure to maintain the same quality of food without logging overtime hours. And on top of this some students complain about not being able to receive their normal cuisine because of CCG.
“I get kids that see the CCG and ask me if they can have a cheeseburger,” Applegarth said. “Some people don’t understand how much work goes into this.”
Nonetheless, most comments are positive.
“CCG is always a pleasant surprise,” Erin McNellis ’04 said. “I’ve definitely had experiences where CCG has had few vegetarian options, but I eat about four desserts to make up for it.”
Archived article by Matthew Vernon