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Dascomb Hall Goes Up in Smoke—Smoked Eats, That Is

Oct. 15, 2012

By Erich Burnett

Executive chef Chris Brunst and Dascomb Hall's designated smoking area.
(photo: Sela Miller '15)

When the dining hall across campus offers all-you-can-eat, it takes some special offerings to compete.

For years, that’s the challenge Dascomb Hall has faced come evening time, when Obies favor Stevenson Hall’s endless eating over the à la carte options of Dascomb.

“We needed to find a niche for our dinner program,” says Gina Fusco, director of Dascomb’s dining operation for Bon Appétit, the foodservice company that manages Oberlin's seven dining areas and a long list of other top institutions nationwide. “By evening, kids without the burden of another class to attend can pretty much go wherever they want, and Stevenson is a very attractive option.”

Dascomb’s bold response came from one of its house chefs, Chris Brunst.

“In the past, the main dining halls' offerings had all been very similar,” says Brunst, who trained with the experts at Johnny's Bar, one of Cleveland's most renowned restaurants, most notably for its deft touch with meats and fish. “We wanted to do something different from your everyday options, and I figured a smoker would be something that could help set Dascomb apart from the rest.”

So in the spring, Brunst set about researching smokers and various cooking techniques: everything from secret recipes for rubs and sauces, to regional specialties from around the nation and beyond. He also coordinated the purchase of a six-foot-tall, rotisserie-style industrial smoker made by Friedrich, which was used sparingly in its first weeks on campus. Only this fall has a schedule been implemented to deliver the smoky goodness five days a week.

Now, Dascomb fires up the smoker from Sunday through Thursday, with a different emphasis each day. Rotisserie chicken is the specialty of Sunday’s home-cooking theme. Tofu takes over on Meatless Mondays. Beef brisket (Tuesday), pulled pork and ribs (alternating each Wednesday), and cinnamon-rubbed smoked chicken (Thursday) round out the offerings for fall semester.

On Thursday nights, Dascomb's chefs smoke chicken wings to serve at the hall's popular “Fourth Meal” gathering.

And the response from students thus far?

“It's been very positive,” Fusco says. “Ninety percent of the time, we run out of the meat—especially the ribs and chicken. I haven’t run out of tofu yet,” she adds, noting that smoking soy is a somewhat more nuanced art, because meatless proteins require less smoke than their fleshy counterparts.

More than just a tasty treat, smoked meats offer a healthier, less fatty option than most conventional preparations. They're also a welcome addition to Dascomb’s other house specialties: from its daily deli corner and pizza station, to its salad bar and popular “Ring of Fire” station, where everything from Asian fare to Eastern European delights are cooked to order before students’ eyes. And every day, vegetarian and vegan options earn a place of honor too.

Fusco and Brunst promise new offerings from the smoker will roll out over time, including smoked turkey and other meats to stock the house deli, fish, and additional vegetarian items—perhaps tempeh or seitan—to supplement the current options.

The fruits of the smoker are also available as part of Dascomb's “Chef 2 You” program, which invites Oberlin faculty and staff to phone in complete meal orders by 2 p.m. to be picked up on the way home.

“The smoker has been a valuable addition to our cooking arsenal,” says Brunst, who rarely gets to savor his own creations these days. He’s been promoted to executive chef at Oberlin—and transferred across campus to Stevenson Hall.

“That was a little hard,” he says with a laugh. “But the good thing is I'm still able to have input on what we smoke in it.”

Learn more about dining on campus at Oberlin.

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