What's Cooking?

DAA helps students learn practical skills for post-graduation life
April 29, 2014

Duke senior Martin Shores’ grandmother made a mean steak. She had a way with food, transforming basic ingredients into delicious dishes, he says. Like a tasty carbonara pasta sauce, “which I still need her to teach me to make,” he adds.

Shores has been thinking more about his grandmother’s cooking since he moved into an off-campus apartment, the first time he has had access to a kitchen since coming to Duke. But how does a soon-to-be graduate begin to learn how to handle cooking as nimbly as his grandmother?

Enter “What I Forgot to Learn in College,” a new series launched by the DAA and the Senior Class Council to prepare students for life after graduation. The classes focus on practical life skills for students, often featuring alumni with expertise in those subjects. So when Shores saw an e-mail advertising a cooking class, he immediately signed up.

“I can’t think of anyone at Duke who would cover that in our education,” he says. In February, Shores and about fifty other Duke students gathered in Durham’s The Cookery, where J.W. Walton ’82, partner at The Catering Company of Chapel Hill, walked them step-by-step through kitchen skills such as roasting a chicken and making a breakfast omelet.

The class covered basic stock recipes, as well as a few tricks of the trade—like wrapping salmon in parchment paper and keeping an egg intact mid-flip.

“I’ve never known how to flip a whole egg,” says senior Li Chen, who attended the class. “I always start scrambling it instead.”

Senior Class Council member Nikhil Prakash, a selfproclaimed sandwich maker who helped organize the class, says there is a definite need for students to learn practical skills to prepare for life after graduation.

“I think a lot of students don’t really think about the little things they have to prepare for. They don’t think about living on their own and eating healthy,” he says. “Cooking is one of the first places to start. You can save a lot of money and eat a lot better.”

That’s a niche the DAA can fill, says Inga Peterson, who leads DAA’s campus engagement programs. “One of my goals is to really think through as a community what seniors need in order to be successful transitioning out of the university in the same way we help them transition into the university,” she says.

In another class in the “What I Forgot to Learn in College” series, Megan Forlines M.M. ’12, a Ralph Lauren assistant merchandiser, and Devon Bostock ’11, M.M. ’12, a venture-capital banker, taught students how to dress professionally. A future class will gather alumni in various U.S. cities for a Google Hangout with students who have taken jobs in those cities, giving them an opportunity to ask practical questions about finding housing, transportation, and even where to watch a Duke game with friends.

“I think the alumni association plays a very important role in connecting students,” Prakash says. “Alums are fantastic resources. They know a lot about the world. They are still interested in helping out students.”

As for Shores, he hasn’t mastered his grandmother’s carbonara sauce yet. But he did experiment with a roasted chicken recipe Walton handed out in class—and discovered a new creative outlet in the process.

“It’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve done this semester,” he says. “It’s just something completely different from my academics, completely out of my comfort zone. I started off really conservative. Now I’ve reached the point where I consistently get things right. I started inviting people over.”

  • Christina Holder M.Div.'13 the DAA's assistant director of communications.