As I walk into the small French House kitchen, I immediately have to maneuver past racks of freshly baked brioche, pots of boiling beets, and students rushing around furiously stirring pots of risotto. Sophomore Nate Gruver stands in the corner, calmly directing a team of apron-clad cooks to finish piping soft scrambled eggs and cream into egg shells, or to finish whipping up a yam mash to be served later in the night. But regardless of the hurry at which these chefs are working, they all look comfortable and at ease; and I know that I have stepped into these students’ natural habitat.
Gruver has assembled a team of extremely talented student cooks and pastry chefs which has been dubbed “Cru,” and this team now works together to bring the culinary experience of a gourmet, 12 course tasting menu to the Stanford students. As a self-proclaimed foodie, I jumped at the opportunity to spend the evening in the kitchen with Nate and the Cru so I could catch a glimpse of the work that really goes in to preparing and creating such a unique, flavorful, and incredible culinary experience.
When I heard that Nate and his team were taking on the task of cooking 12 gourmet courses for 60 guests, I couldn’t help but wonder how they were going to pull off such an ambitious feat. The idea to bring a student-led fine dining experience straight to the Stanford students came to Nate after he watched the movie “Paladar,” a documentary about two USC students that run a supper club in their apartment. After that, he knew he needed to do something similar.
The quality of the food at the pop up was nothing short of incredible. I was amazed by how these cooks executed the expertly designed menu. Dishes were creative and unique such as squid ink ravioli with egg yolk and carrot gratin, as well as classic desserts with an interesting twist such as homemade salted caramel ice cream, panna cotta with pistachio crumble and cara cara orange, and homemade marshmallows. Crowd favorites included the lychee sorbet with rose, and the smoked beets with sea salt and crispy shallots.
While the food was both delicious and beautifully plated, there was so much effort and cooperation between the cooks that made the night possible. Getting to witness firsthand this work during my evening in the kitchen was truly inspiring. Between rushing plates out to diners and running approximately 80 runs of the Hobart, I got my own taste of the immense work and effort that was put in behind the scenes.
What the diners were not privy to is the fact that as they are leisurely enjoying each of their incredible dishes, the chefs were working furiously in the kitchen. After each course is plated, the chefs promptly began to whip up the next one. “12 courses in 2.5 hours is actually pretty fast,” Nate says. “It’s a course every 12 minutes and you have to plate 30.”
Even after a weekend of preparing to compile 12 dishes for 60 people, Gruver mentioned that everyone realizes that it is all worth it when they see how satisfied and joyful it makes their guests. “The [most] rewarding [part] is probably walking out at end of the night and seeing people talking happily,” recounts Gruver after the second seating. And the work they put in was truly appreciated.
As I walked through the dining room, clearing the basically licked-clean plates after each serving, I couldn’t help but take note of the looks of awe on every guest’s face and know that all the hard work really was acknowledged. But what was perhaps the most inspiring was to see a bunch of students banding together to create something so artistic and so delicious, purely to express their love of cooking.
If you’re interested in tasting one of these delicious 10 course meals for yourself, you’re out of luck; at least for this quarter as the 190 seats are sold out for the remainder of the dinners this quarter. But cross your fingers; if you act fast enough, you may be able to snag a seat should Cru decide to continue their work in the Spring. And let’s hope they do.