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A Culinary Showdown

The French and Italian Clubs go head-to-head to prove who has the better food.

The line to get in is out the door. Students salivate in anticipation as savory scents float down the corridor. The annual French versus Italian Cook-off always draws a crowd, but this year there was even more at stake as the Italian Club sought to reclaim the title after the French Club’s 2022 victory.

Preparing the Dishes

Photo by Ellie Smith

The cook-off follows a simple format. Both sides bring as many of their tasty native dishes as possible, then a faculty member from each club selects the best appetizer, entrée, and dessert to be presented to the judges. The judges come from the College of Humanities. The competition has three rounds—appetizer, entrée, and dessert—with a single dish representing each country for each round. Judges award points for taste, style, and technical difficulty. Whichever club wins the most rounds wins the overall competition.

On the Italian side, Professor Marie Orton (Italian Language and Culture) confidently stated that “the evidence speaks for itself,” gesturing to the table overflowing with pastas and confections. She said, “You publicly manifest yourself through your food, and students take this competition seriously. They think about it all year long. Some of them even prepared their dishes the weekend before for fine-tuning.” With homemade focaccia bread, hand-whipped ricotta cheese, and a portable freezer humming with chocolate gelato inside, the Italians certainly had every right to feel confident.

Basil Pasta
Photo by Ellie Smith

On the French side, Assistant Professor Jim Law (Historical Linguistics) shot down the Italian Club’s confidence with the comment, “Quality over quantity—doesn’t matter how much pasta you have.” The French side certainly didn’t have the same number of dishes, but what they did have looked gorgeous. They also took advantage of the technicality that food from any French-speaking country was allowed and brought a variety of African, Canadian, and other dishes. A torched velvety meringue atop a citrus tart sat next to eclairs, and several slow cookers simmered with stews and curries.

At the Judges’ Table

At the judges’ table, professors from other departments waited for the best dishes to be selected. Associate Professors Troy Cox (Language Learning and Assessment), Laura Catharine Smith (Theoretical Phonology), Heather Belnap (Women in 19th-Century French Art and Culture), and Assistant Professor Elliott Wise (Eucharistic and Liturgical Imagery) served as the judging panel.

Photo by Ellie Smith

Ruminating on the foods in view, one judge said, “The French have gotten too comfortable with their win. They’re resting on their laurels.” When asked about how they would be judging the dishes, Belnap said, “Presentation is key. I’m all about style.” Wise added, “Some of these dishes are really technically difficult to make, and that should be taken into account.” Cox said the flavor would be his deciding factor, and Smith stated that she hoped to judge as a blank slate, since neither style of food is her specialty.

Appetizers, Entrées, and Desserts

Then, out came the dishes. Round one was appetizers. From the French Club came a traditional winter squash soup with cilantro garnish. The layers of spice and flavor from this dish seemed to impress the judges. From the Italian Club came the homemade focaccia bread with whipped ricotta. The technical difficulty of this dish was not overlooked by the judges, but the French Club was still deemed victor for the first round.

Lemon Cake
Photo by Ellie Smith

Round two was main courses. The Italian Club presented a lasagna Bolognese that required a 10-hour cook time to get the pasta and meat sauce to fully absorb the flavor. The French Club presented a classic French onion soup topped with all the trimmings of baked bread with melted cheese. The time that went into both dishes was certainly impressive, but the judges ruled the Italian Club the winners of the second round.

So both clubs came into the final round tied: dessert. From the French Club came an elegant tart au citron avec meringue. The lemon tart had a perfect curd consistency, the crust supported the treat while maintaining a crisp bottom layer, and the meringue added a vanilla sweetness that just curbed the sharp lemon flavor. From the Italian Club came another lemon-themed pastry, a three-layer lemon cake with sweet buttercream and candied lemons on top. The spongey cake retained its moist flavor, while the buttercream added a subtle cream component, but the candied lemon really made the dish shine.

A French Victory

Photo by Ellie Smith

The judges deliberated. Both dishes contained the same basic flavor profile, so it all came down to the subtle differences in craft. The scores were tallied, and coming in just one point ahead was the French Club! Having secured the trophy for the second year in a row, the French Club participants let loose, cheering and celebrating their victory. Following the judging, all attendees were invited to try the different dishes on display.