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Pond scum, trash purifier
Retirees plan to dig in
Brown, Corr, Douglas, Erchak, Levinson
Table manners New d-hall sparks culinary, and social, interplay
String theory - and practice Music from East and West
Talking culture shock Guest lectures explore red-hot culture issues
Books Faculty and alumni authors
Big hit Thoroughbreds host girls' sports clinics
Sportswrap Hockey gets national nod

Table manners
New d-hall sparks culinary, and social, interplay

Give it an A, and that’s no grade inflation. The new Murray-Aikins Dining Hall has earned it—in décor and cuisine, but also in the social science of enjoyable dining.

The $11 million renovation completed last September thoroughly transformed the old hall. The original brick building was refaced with a dramatic two-story atrium (named for trustee Polly Skogsberg Kisiel ’62 and her husband), which offers casual seating overlooking Case Green and also a convenience store and a smart little café for light meals and upscale desserts. Behind that
is the main dining space, a bazaar of seven individual food stations, each with its own splashy décor. Part futuristic fun house, part Disney World, the walls curve and zing in brilliant shades
of plum, teal, scarlet, and persimmon. The old hall’s original cathedral ceiling has been visually lowered with a playful array of standing and hanging abstract shapes. The new hall seats 675, on everything from tall barstools to standard-issue chairs at round tables to cushy sofas in front of
the two gas fireplaces. A vigorous social flow percolates among the nooks and crannies, solitary perches, and team-sized tables.

“It’s like an airport—big, with people walking around hectically and finally arriving at a destination,” Alexandra Golcher ’10 told the Skidmore News. To choose among the offerings
at various stations, “you have to do a couple of laps before you can decide,” says Alison Wiggins ’09. (And you do it without trays; the new d-hall has none.) Skidmore News columnist Emily Maskin ’07 wrote, “I love the color scheme. I love the new layout. I love the better food.”

In the spirit of selfless research, Scope grazed the menu and found it extraordinarily good, whether it was quesadilla or curry day at the Global Café, whether the Diner offered chicken à la king or eggplant parm with a side of garlic-sautéed spinach. Semolina’s (the homemade pasta station)
may feature blackened flank steak over linguine one day, shrimp stir-fry over penne the next. In
the vegan-vegetarian Emily’s Garden, a salad du jour might be baby spinach leaves vinaigrette
with apples, walnuts, cranberries, pine nuts… Whoa, this stuff is delicious! Scope found most everything nicely spiced without excess salt and—a real marvel for any d-hall—nothing overcooked. Fresh and expensive items abound, like snowpeas, red bell peppers, real bacon bits, fresh parsley, goat cheese, black sesame seeds. The traditional standbys are here, too: the do-it-yourself waffle irons and big griddle for eggs and grilled-cheese sandwiches, a carousel of cereals and granola, five kinds of brick-oven pizza so fresh you can watch the pizza cook flinging dough in the air for
the next pie.

Not only do students dig into plates gorgeous enough to rival food-magazine centerfolds, but they also waste less food than before, says Ann Bullington, a dining-services assistant supervisor. “They’re taking big plates but eating it all.” Why? Simple: “The food tastes better,” Tyler Vukmer ’07 says. “It’s fresh, fantastic. A big step up.” How did they do that? In an era of increasingly sophisticated campus amenities, the college’s Dining Services Committee “decided to bounce it up from institutional to restaurant level,” explains Jon Neil, dining services’ interim director, who coordinated the renovation. The old hall’s cramped and antiquated kitchen was largely replaced by the small food stations, each with its own chef and its own ethos. “You know that old saying about too many cooks in the kitchen? It’s true,” Neil grins. “But here each cook gets his or her own kitchen and all the right tools”—a tandoori oven, a stand-up rotisserie, a pasta machine. “They learn their recipes and they learn their clientele.” Students freely browse and peek in to see what’s cooking. “You can ask the cook to hold the broccoli and give you just the tofu and sauce,” says Fred Braunstein ’08, “and you can stop back on your way out and tell the chef, Hey, that was really good!”

New spaces do create new social patterns, says Joanna Zangrando, a Skidmore professor of American studies who teaches a course in material culture. But in this case, the zippy new space also reflects the popular-culture patterns of students’ lives. “They’ve grown up with choice, variety, bright colors, a fast pace, a lot going on,” says Zangrando. Anthropology professor Michael Ennis-McMillan points out the visual cover afforded by the different levels and types of seating. “The old dining hall was a vast sea of tables, and everyone looked up when you walked through,” he says. By contrast, the lively, mega-clectic new d-hall “feels like a marketplace—nobody stares at you here,” agrees Zangrando. “You can retain anonymity, but it’s friendlier, too.”

That ability to dip unnoticed into the student culture delights Ennis-McMillan. “I can come in for morning coffee, sit at a small table in the atrium, and observe the flow of student culture in ways I couldn’t before.” Nowadays he tells his student advisees, “I am available for lunch meetings, and I don’t mind eating in the dining hall.”

“There’s a real buzz here,” says Zangrando. “It makes you feel that eating is a ritual that should be enjoyed.”