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Beyond Mac 'n Cheese: Student Club Brings Creativity to the Kitchen

June 28, 2011

"When you've got a bunch of guys, it's fun to make bread-you can pound it!" Christian Hidden enthuses.  The civil engineering graduate from Vancouver, Wash., is one of the founders of Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology's Culinary Craftsmen club. 

     Mac Cheese Club1

Hidden, who was homeschooled until high school, spent a lot of time in the kitchen as he was growing up.  Alongside his 3 siblings, he learned to cook from his mother, a from-scratch cook who ground her own bread flour. Having four kids meant that Hidden's mom cooked big meals, but the family also needed to live frugally.  "We did a lot with leftover food," he explains.

When he transferred to Rose-Hulman as a junior, Hidden brought his love of cooking good food with him.  He soon realized that not only did many of his friends have unhealthy eating habits, they were clueless in the kitchen.  But as is typical of students at Rose-Hulman, most of them were eager to learn.  "I asked all of my friends, 'Would you be interested in a cooking club?' They said, 'Yeah.' I said, 'Do you even know how to cook an egg?' They were like, 'No.'" Hidden knew he had his work cut out for him.

Beginning with small gatherings in his apartment, Hidden started teaching a few friends the basics. "It was really a need that had not been met," he says. "Cooking food is a lifelong skill," he adds, "If you know how to cook you can live cheaply."

Everyone pitched in a few bucks to cover the cost at these meals, but soon the club outgrew Hidden's apartment. He then approached the Student Government Association, which he said approved the club "almost immediately." Working with ARA Manager Matt Garcia, the group began to hold larger events using the campus kitchens.

"The real reason we started the club was to teach students how to eat healthy, sustainable food."  Hidden says that while there is an emphasis on sustainable, locally grown ingredients, as well as cooking meals from scratch, time limitations have forced the group to make some practical decisions.  For example, when the club made apple crisp, they opted to use frozen apples to cut down on the prep time.

Mac Cheese Club2     

The skills Hidden gleaned from his childhood were put to the test when he organized the club to provide a meal for the participants of the 30 Hour Famine at the end of their event in October.  Sponsored by World Vision, the famine allowed students the opportunity to raise money to fight world hunger as they went without food for 30 hours.  Afterwards, hungry participants enjoyed a meal provided by the Culinary Craftsmen.  The group made pasta, salad and from-scratch breadsticks for 150 people. 

Other club events were sprinkled throughout to year. A springtime pizza night drew about 60 people. For dessert night, Hidden divided the attendees into 3 teams, each creating a different dessert.

One of Hidden's goals has been to change the way his peers think about food and cooking. "Instead of going out for fast food--Hey, cook some eggs and put together a breakfast burrito." He says that he wants to educate people about what they're eating, as well as making them realize, "You can actually have fun in the kitchen."

For a foodie like Hidden, promoting cooking on campus has been a way to show a little love to his fellow students, "I'm trying to improve the quality of life at Rose-Hulman," he says. Although Hidden graduated this spring, he's confident that the Culinary Craftsmen club at Rose-Hulman will continue to grow. "People get to cook for free, they get to have fun, and it's good food."