As Cornell Dining ended its takeout-only policy on Monday, I reflected upon eating meals in my suite’s common room for the past two weeks. With eight regulars sharing breakfast, lunch and dinner in our Hans Bethe “dining room,” the dynamic of my friends’ and my eating habits returned to that of the 2020-2021 academic year.
The suite encompassess our personalized touches around a small knee-high table stacked with green to-go containers and plastic cups. Our small area compiles an assortment of a small couch, an armchair, an ottoman, a couple of home-brought chairs and our suite mascot, Steven the Reptile (we still dispute whether he is an alligator or crocodile). Nonetheless, we dine in our home-sweet-home dining room. But at the head of the table sits our most regular guests at dinner: Guy Fieri and Gordon Ramsay.
With the pandemic placing us in front of the television rather than in front of each other during meals, what’s on TV has been the most consistent aspect of our pandemic lives. 7 to 8 p.m. is a sacred time: Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune take precedence over all other shows. We try to align our dinner time right at 7 p.m., but most of the time, we fail to coordinate. In a world of streaming services, it’s okay when we miss that hourly weekday window; we watch our Food Network shows instead, and familiar faces join us to eat their meals while we eat our own.
In the 2020-2021 academic year, my friends and I watched the entirety of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. If you haven’t jumped onto one of Guy Fieri’s thirty minute road trips before, he visits and eats at three mom-and-pop style restaurants across the United States. Always looking for America’s best, Guy has eaten everything from hawaiian-inspired bulgogi fries to Maryland crabcakes to good old fashioned Louisiana gumbo. Eating our dining hall meals with Fieri jumping from Hawaii to Philly to Texas felt like we were traveling from state to state, city to city, traveling across the country while never leaving Ithaca. While we rarely ate anything close to what Guy was served, we still ate together in our faux pandemic family.
Whether watching every episode of Triple D is an accomplishment or disappointment is up for debate (although I would argue in favor of a proud accomplishment). But in that same year, we also watched the entirety of Guy’s Grocery Games. As my friends and I shifted away from the laid-back Fieri driving across the country in his 1968 Camaro to his more competitive cooking show, we found ourselves similarly engulfed in four new chefs competing for the opportunity of a $20,000 shopping spree every episode. With almost every episode featuring a different theme (grandmas, East Coast vs. West Coast, etc.), new cuisines still appeared in every episode, providing a novel approach to food in contrast with our more regular eating habits in Ithaca.
Between episodes of Triple D and Triple G, we also watched Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares and, for these past two weeks, have been watching Next Level Chef. Gordon Ramsay is known for his aggressive, expletive-filled and fast-paced cooking shows — and both of these are no exception. The dramatic tonal shifts between Guy and Gordon completed my friends’ and my transition from easy going cooking shows to high-paced winner-takes-all cooking competitions.
Watching these cooking shows has not only given us a form of entertainment for us, but a ritualistic centerpiece of our daily lives in the pandemic. We have all scheduled more back-to-back meetings where we live on Zoom, but it has been comforting to know that whenever we leave time to eat, we leave time to eat together and watch something we all enjoy.
Although we have finished all four shows and, as of Monday, finished our takeout meals, part of me will miss our regular +1s at dinner. Fieri and Ramsay may not know they sit at a Cornell dining table every meal of the pandemic-day, but their food and their fun have been a fundamental cornerstone of my friends’ and my eating experience at Cornell. Thank you both for spicing up our meals and our time together.
Patrick J. Mehler is a junior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He can be reached at [email protected] The Mehl-Man Delivers runs every other Tuesday this semester.