Diners, drive-ins … and dorms?

A delicious dorm-cooked meal made by Donato and Foley. Photo courtesy of Donato and Foley.

JACK WILLIAMS | STAFF REPORTER | jrwilliams@butler.edu 

Everyone has that one friend who can cook a mean omelet but gets lost as soon as a recipe mentions measurements. Other campus cooks are able to make five-star spaghetti but burn pizza bagels. By the time junior year rolls around, most students in on-campus housing have minimal meal plans and have to fend for themselves. Their kitchen choices are a result of the unique way that they learned how to cook. 

Madi Foley, a junior English and Spanish double major, started as a dishwasher at a local restaurant at age 13 and had worked her way up to a cook by the time she left for college. She credits her culinary skills to that job and weekends watching The Food Network with her grandmother. However, Foley’s college meals wouldn’t be complete without her roommate and partner in cuisine — Annie Donato, a junior violin performance and English double major. 

“If I wasn’t cooking with someone else, I don’t think I’d be able to make meals on such a regular basis,” said Foley. “Together, it takes us maybe an hour; alone, it’s a two-hour ordeal.” 

It can be difficult to find the time to cook decent meals when students move from underclassmen housing and meal plans to junior apartments that are further from academic buildings. Instead of making a quick stop at Plum Market, lunches must be packed during busy school nights crammed with homework. 

Another obstacle in this transition is the lack of cooking opportunities in underclassmen dorms. There are community kitchens, but students must take the risk of encountering crumb-crusted counters or a sink full of plates turned into petri dishes. This leaves students with little motivation to prepare themselves for meal planning their junior year. 

Luckily for Donato, her mother was adamant that she learn to be self-sufficient. She encouraged her to help out in the kitchen and to cook her own meals once a month. Despite their different backgrounds, Donato feels that she and Foley work well together. The two make meal time an event to look forward to by documenting dishes on their shared Instagram account, @anniemadieats. Their favorites are sweet chili tofu and kale salad. 

“I feel like we just bounce off each other’s energy throughout the day because we’re together constantly,” Donato said. “Every time we get back to the apartment, we’re in the same mood for the same type of food.” 

The camaraderie that Donato and Foley have found can be a calming capstone to long days. The pressure to constantly be productive takes a toll, and one can only run on Starbucks espresso and energy drinks for so long. Making a meal is both a self-care exercise and leaves chefs with a product to be proud of. This view is shared by Samie New, a sophomore theatre major. Cooking helps her de-stress and brings back fond memories of chatting with family in her home kitchen while her mother makes crêpes. 

“The reason why I like cooking is because it really brings a community together,” New said. “You sit around a table and you’re talking and eating; it’s just a lot of fun.” 

New loves to cook for special occasions but is happy to turn any old weeknight into pasta night. There’s no surer way to gather a group of college students than to fill a room with the scent of spaghetti and hot marinara. New hopes to cook more frequently next year when she has access to a full kitchen in Apartment Village, but in the meantime has a few recommendations for beginner cooks. 

“Start off with an easy recipe,” New said. “Or start off with your favorite food to eat because that way you’re passionate about what you’re making.” 

That intersection of passion and forethought is what makes the difference between a panic-inducing dinner and something to wow one’s roommates. Donato and Foley have picked up a few habits that streamline their cook times. They recommend writing a weekly grocery list, buying fresh produce and not shying away from canned goods. 

“College cooking is not anything that is extraordinary or elegant,” Donato said. “It’s how to make do with what you have.” 

Five-star meals aren’t necessary to build a community. When it comes to how fancy a good meal should be, the bar for college is less like Hell’s Kitchen and more like Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Elbow grease, a few friends and some thrift store silverware is all you need to get started. The skills learned in a Butler dorm could even be used to impress some friends and family at a barbecue back home this summer. 


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