The phrase "dining hall food" might bring to mind questionable green vegetables or rubbery cheese pizza without sauce. But at Oregon State, specifically Marketplace West, the dining halls are breaking stigmas about college dining by offering seasonal ingredients, rotating menus, and pizza with campus-made cheese. Despite this, I never thought it possible to eat a three-course dinner there.

On February 9th, I went to an event held once a term at Marketplace West, called Chef's Table, a 'fine-dining experience' containing a luxurious grouping of fresh oysters and Wagyu beef based on the theme of Celebrating Winter-Earth and Ocean. I ate food on campus that led me to one of my favorite food comas yet.

5:30pm (Pre-game)

tenderloin, pepper, barbecue, steak, pork, meat, beef
Spencer Hutchison

I arrived early to Marketplace West for a promised look at some behind-the-scenes action before the three course dinner, where Chef Jay Perry walked me and Spencer, one of our photographers, to the back kitchen so we could see the beginning of our meal we would soon dine on.

From talking with Chef Jay, we found out he had worked in fine dining before becoming a private chef and eventually making his way to Oregon State as a Chef De Cuisine for University Housing and Dining Services. His goal with these 'Chef's Table' dinners is to expose students to fine dining experiences, right down to the setting.

6:33 pm (Shucks, was that Nice)

wine, sake, tea
Spencer Hutchison

After a light bread service, the Kumamoto oyster arrives concealed in a tall, curvy glass, nestled on pebbles of salt and encompassed in a gentle alder smoke. "It's like sitting at a fancy campfire," Spencer observes. He's in his own world now.

The final menu was released just that day, and due to a minor shellfish allergy I wasn't able to try the oyster, so I looked to Spencer for details:

The oyster is creamy, tucked into its own shell by a gentle hollandaise with a tug of acid and a splash of a mignonette of reduced sake (rice wine) and shallots, which is a condiment commonly paired with oysters. It has fulfilled its mission of amuse-bouche, amusing the tongue. Definitely not the first food word I have trouble pronouncing.

6:57 pm (Tongue Twister)

arugula, cheese, salad
Spencer Hutchison

Leek Soufflé with a Frisée (micro salad) arrived next. I am used to sweet, rich soufflé, but this one was savory, light, and had more egg flavor.  It had airy, smooth textures paired with humble leek flavor and subtle undertones of sweet onion in the aftertaste. The salad was crisp, with a slight bitterness, cut with a gently acidic vinaigrette.

7:31 pm (As Advertised)

filet mignon, steak
Spencer Hutchison

The Wagyu arrives. I receive a double portion due to my inconvenient allergy, exempting me from the scallop. On Spencer's plate it is lined up next to a circle of parsley potato purée and a seared scallop, resting in a tower of its past home, surrounded by a foam of aquafaba, juices from garbanzo beans incorporated with air-a legume meringue. 

I tried the aquafaba. Yup, it tastes like a foamy garbanzo bean. Chef Jay quips that it's the next big thing for incorporating protein into entrées. I like purple food better.

The steak has a hard sear and is seasoned with white pepper and sea salt, complimenting the strong beef flavor due to excellent marbling. "The scallop has a lovely golden-brown sear, a good mouth feel, and retains a mild, briny background," Spencer reports. The aquafaba is the earth's diplomat, helping deliver well on the dinner's theme.

7:48 pm (Loco Cocoa) 

cake, chocolate cake, chocolate
Spencer Hutchison

Finishing a meal with chocolate is one of my favorite things. Chef Jay seems to agree. The final course was a Chocolate Trio. The silken chocolate drink was like drinking a melted milk chocolate truffle. I asked for seconds. 

Next was the dark chocolate coin embellished with pistachio, cashew, and a coconut flake sat on a jilée of orange flower tea and espresso powder. The dark chocolate served as a nice contrast to the drink.

Finally, the Chocolate Donut. Rolled in Vanilla Sugar, it came warm, fresh from the fryer. The outside was crunchy and light, the inside moist and airy, with a great dark chocolate flavor.

8:02 pm (Food Coma)

As dinner concluded, I thanked Chef Jay for a wonderful evening and patted my stomach. I'm not sure the next time I'll eat something that extravagant in the near future, or at least not until the next event. If you want a piece of the action, be on the lookout for the RSVP form for this Spring Term's Chef's Table event on May 11th.