Source: Athens Banner-Herald
Story by Chris J. Starrs
For the Athens Banner-Herald
For a student away from home at college, the only thing better than enjoying a favorite family recipe in the dining halls would be having the opportunity to share in that meal with 6,000 of your closest friends.
For the last 17 years, University of Georgia Food Services director Mike Floyd has taken that concept and made it a reality with the "Taste of Home" program, whereby parents submit their children's favorite recipes to Food Services for consideration to be prepared on a designated day.
Floyd said each year, Food Services receives some 500 to 600 recipes, utilizing roughly 120 to be featured at UGA's four dining halls - Bolton, Oglethorpe, Snelling and Village Summit. Since Floyd instituted the program in 1987, more than 1,560 recipes from students' homes have been prepared and served, with quite a few of those culinary formulas being integrated into the fabric of the regular dining hall menu.
Parents whose recipes are chosen by Food Services' management and culinary teams receive a commemorative plate, two complimentary meal passes and a copy of their recipe, ramped up to serve thousands of dinners.
"We try to develop a balanced menu for that day," said Floyd, who pointed out this year's "Taste of Home" day - when many parents visit UGA to see how well their recipe is received - was Dec. 9. "We don't want to have three chicken dishes in one dining hall. And when selecting the recipes, we also must consider ingredients and preparation. The recipes must lend themselves to being adapted for an institutional kitchen."
Although UGA students from Oconee County don't necessarily have to travel a long distance to enjoy their favorite home-cooked meal, several Bulldog moms from the area have submitted recipes that will be on this year's "Taste of Home" menu.
For Watkinsville resident Laura Bennewitz, a 1973 graduate of UGA whose son Tom is a sophomore, this will be the second consecutive year one of her recipes has been chosen. Recognizing many students are vegetarians, Bennewitz offered Wild Rice Salad in 2003 and submitted her recipe for Spinach Rice this year.
"I can remember eating in the dining halls when I was a student, and the food was pretty miserable," said Bennewitz, who knows Floyd and his family through their mutual participation in Boy Scouts. "Thirty years later, I couldn't believe how much it has improved. Some people say the HOPE Scholarship attracts people to UGA, but I think it could just be the food."
A journalist by trade, Bennewitz said she attended last year's "Taste of Home" event and left knowing her Wild Rice Salad was appreciated by many.
"Irving Berlin once said the greatest feeling in the world is walking down the street and hearing somebody you don't know whistling a song you wrote," she said. "Last year, I was behind some girls in line who tried my dish, liked it and went back for more. That really makes you feel good."
Watkinsville resident Claire McGee, whose daughter Alyson is a freshman at UGA (and whose husband Bob is associate controller at UGA) said she decided to submit a recipe after hearing Floyd speak at orientation last summer. She admits her Mediterranean Chicken Medley is not an original creation, adding it's still one of her family's favorites.
"It's one of my specialties; I really like to cook," said McGee, who teaches art at Whit Davis Elementary in Athens. "Alyson likes it a lot, but I also thought it would be a recipe that would lend itself to food-service preparation. It's really fascinating to see the enormous quantities of ingredients needed to make this dish for so many people."
Floyd said like all good ideas, "Taste of Home" isn't an entirely original concept, but he added he's not aware of any college food service department that has such an event on the level of UGA's.
"I had a friend at Furman that had a similar program, but not of this magnitude," he said. "I thought it was a great idea that needed to be done on a larger scale. It's a lot of work - we've got to collect and then select the recipes and enter them into our computer's production system and then do testing."
On "Taste of Home" day, however, all the effort is more than worth it.
"It's fun seeing the excitement in the parents," Floyd said. "When we first started doing this in 1987, it was done in association with Mother's Day. I can't tell you how many cards and letters I've received over the years from mothers who told me it was their best Mother's Day ever.
"The dining halls take on a special flair. There's just something special about sharing a special recipe from home."