A Propitious Beginning at the Dinner Table

by Amanda Balagur

Do you remember the feeling when you first arrived at college for undergrad?  You had probably just spent your high school career working towards the goal of attending that institution, and you were probably pretty excited – likely a bit nervous – when you walked into your first class and sat down with your new classmates.

photo by Chris Maggiolo
photo by Chris Maggiolo

Well, it’s one thing when you’re a teenager, but for a thirty-something (or even twenty-something) adult, the experience can be just as nerve-racking. Imagine you just picked up and left the life you had – a successful career, a city you knew well and loved, friends, community, your “deep bench” – to pursue a Masters degree in Gastronomy, your passion and something many people have never even heard of (“Did you say Astronomy?”, “Oh! You mean cooking school?”, “Don’t you have to go to medical school to do that?!?”). It’s daunting to walk into a room full of strangers for an orientation; you may as well have a sign on your back that says, “I’m a beginner! Please be gentle.”  But you quickly realize everyone else is in the same boat, and you start to relax.

As we settled in and began chatting, I realized I wasn’t the only student who relocated a fair distance to attend the MLA in Gastronomy program; one student moved here from California, another from Dubai… Seventeen of us are embarking on this journey together (including one Food Studies Certificate student), each with a unique story about how we got here (check out our bios).

The formal orientation began with an introduction by Dr. Rachel Black, Assistant Professor and Academic Coordinator of the Gastronomy program.  Recent graduate Natalie Shmulik spoke about the Gastronomy Student Association, a group of students who put together events and lectures each semester, and encouraged us to get involved.  Dr. Black followed up with a brief overview of the Gastronomy program, and recommendations for achieving success and getting the most out of our time here in Boston.

photo by Chris Maggiolo
photo by Chris Maggiolo

Meanwhile, Blair Newhard was prepping in the kitchen with assistants Audrey Reid, Rob Haley, and Gab Korakot, all current students in the program and graduates of the culinary arts lab.  The new students were divided into four teams, each tasked with a recipe selected by Blair. We set about chopping, stirring and cooking, our uneasiness replaced with an immediate sense of community and common interest.


photo by Chris Maggiolo
photo by Chris Maggiolo

When the meal was ready, we dined at one long table on Citrus, Fennel and Avocado Salad, Orecchiette with Sausage and Kale Pesto, and Sweet Potato Dirtbombs (likened by one diner to delectably rich donut holes). Toasts were made to celebrate the start of a new semester and a new class of Gastronomy students, and conversation flowed as freely as the wine.  Up and down the table, students and professors chatted about classes, books, lectures, and what brought us to the program.  It was inspiring to finally meet my fellow students, and talk about the opportunities that lay ahead of us.  The phantom sign on my back had disappeared, and I was left anticipating an exciting semester and incredible academic experience.



Special thanks to those who made this wonderful orientation event possible: Dr. Rachel Black, Blaire Newhard and her kitchen assistants, and Program Coordinator Barbara Rotger.

Amanda Balagur is a first year Gastronomy MLA student and creator of the Twin Cities-based local food podcast, Localicious.

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