During the spring semester of her junior year, Emma Laperruque ’14 went to a place few students go: the basement kitchens of the Soper Commons Dining Hall. She was down there to complete a photography project of her own design focused on how students and the dining hall staff respectively view the space.
It was in the kitchen that the epiphany struck. “I realized that this was a classroom that I never even realized existed,” she said. “It was a real-life space I could learn in, and the three hours I spent down there were some of the three best hours I had that semester.”
After a long email and a meeting with her advisor, professor of Creative Writing Tina Hall, Laperruque made a big decision: she decided to pursue a Senior Fellowship project centered around food—specifically, how the millennial generation relates to what they cook and eat. There was just one catch: pursuing the fellowship would mean that Laperruque would have to completely change her major from Creative Writing to an interdisciplinary major.
“It was a difficult decision,” she said, “but I felt like I had to do something with this idea. It was too good not to do.”
The project, titled “Culinary Illiteracy in the Millennial Generation,” combines Laperruque’s passions for food and writing, as well as an investigative sociological aspect to help better understand how Hamilton College students relate to food.
Laperruque has begun conducting interviews with Hamilton students about their relationship with food. Questions focus on what the food culture was like in a student’s house—who cooked, how often, and what. She asks students to describe their favorite food-related memories, and quizzes them on kitchen vocabulary to gauge their “culinary literacy,” she said.
Ultimately, Laperruque will create a cookbook that combines vignettes drawn from her interviews with several original recipes. By mixing narrative and instruction, she hopes to evoke the feeling that “someone [is] there teaching you how to cook.” She finds that people are frequently drawn to cooking because of the emotional experiences and memories provoked by the task. Laperruque is no exception—she still remembers her mother saying that chocolate chips falling into cookie batter sounded like rain.
In her own words, Laperruque didn’t grow up in a family of chefs. “My mom didn’t cook in an extravagant way,” she said. “ She was just a good home cook.” But appreciating food was always important. “As a kid, I loved capers and roasted peppers,” she said. “When I finished a chore around the house, my reward was always eating capers out of the jar.”
On the Hill, though, Laperruque initially found her connection to food waning. “I think it’s something I unconsciously missed,” she said. To compensate, she started voraciously reading food blogs during her freshman year. But after promising to cook for her friends sophomore year if they agreed to move into a quad in Bundy Residence Hall with a kitchen, Laperruque knew that she would soon be able to bring her love of cooking to the Hill. Her summer of recipe planning and research eventually turned into a food blog of her own, called, aptly enough, “Dourmet.”
The blog is filled with pictures of olive oil and unbleached flour on her desk next to her textbooks, and she tackles the challenge of making a salsa verde, sun-dried tomato, and goat cheese pizza in a Babbitt kitchen. When reading her blog, it’s not hard to see why Laperruque has decided to pursue a senior fellowship that pulls together college, cooking, and writing—like a great recipe, she hopes that the end product become something more than the sum of its parts.
“I feel really lucky that I care about what I do,” she said. “People on campus sometimes panic when they’re not really drawn to something, but this is the only thing I can imagine doing.”