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Fancy Feasts: Davidson Gourmet Society Offered Sophisticated Spin on Campus Cuisine

by | Jul 9, 2024

Vail Commons in the mid-1980s.

 

Author: Mary Elizabeth DeAngelis

The pâté maison paired oh so nicely with the upstate New York bubbly.

And the chou-fleur et broccoli au gratin offered a chunky yet silky divineness that seemed so much more elegant than ordinary cauliflower and broccoli in cheese sauce. 

This was, after all, the Davidson Gourmet Society, a festive group of bon vivants who brought fine dining to campus some 40 years ago. Once a semester for about a decade, students, faculty, staff and guests would gather at Vail Commons for a specially themed dinner featuring the foods of another country. 

Offerings included French, Italian, Greek, German, Spanish and Indian foods. 

A committee worked with Dining Services to choose a menu and wines to accompany the dinner. When the guests gathered, lights dimmed, happy voices rose in animated conversation, and dancing sometimes followed.

“Commons was turned into a fancy, ambient-awesome dining experience,” says Julio Ramirez, the R. Stuart Dickson Professor of Psychology. “One other fun feature was that several of us were invited to taste the wine to help Dining Services decide which to serve. We always planned those tastings when we weren’t required to then go to class to lecture. They were at the end of the day, thank goodness.”

The society’s founding dinner, “a la Parisienne,” began at the fashionable hour of 7:15 p.m. on April 11, 1984. It was open to everyone on campus, but seating was limited to 145. Students on meal plans paid $2.25 for that first dinner; faculty, staff and their guests paid $7.25. 

Printed menus included the society’s purpose: “To develop an awareness and appreciation of the intricacies and art of fine dining; to integrate the international character of cuisine to traditional American cooking; to graphically illustrate the relationship of fine dining to the enjoyment of a full and fruitful life.” 

It’s unclear why the dinners stopped—apparently in 1993—but could be related to the growing number of international foods now served on a regular basis at Commons. Participants have fond, if somewhat hazy memories of the dinners.

Cynthia Lewis, Charles A. Dana Professor of English Emerita, recalls a Russian-themed night about 34 years ago: “I was hugely pregnant, and they served borscht,” she says. “I remember thinking, ‘That’s a lot of beets.’ Maybe just too much for a pregnant woman.”

 

 

Davidson College Archives, Public Services Librarian Meggie Lasher, and Hannah Holmes ’26 provided research material for this story.

Editor’s note: Members of the Class of 1987 were the last allowed to legally consume alcohol before age 21. The legal drinking age changed from 18-21, but this class was “grandfathered” and members could drink at age 18. Thus an event serving wine at The Commons would be open to all students. 

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