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Taste Test on the 23rd floor of a Boston University dorm

Posted by boston.com  December 4, 2013 05:32 PM

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Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

If you live in Student Village 2 (Stuvi2 for short) at Boston University, you can quickly rattle off the closest dining locations to the building. There’s the West Campus dining hall, Buick Street Market, plus Panera Bread, T. Anthony’s, Kayuga, and Angora a short walk across the street.

What you might not know is that on the 23rd floor of Stuvi2, healthy and fresh food is being prepared every Wednesday night. Enter Professor Karen Jacobs’ apartment and you’ll find anywhere from eight to 50 students trying out a recipe and spending quality time together.

Jacobs—a Sargent College professor in occupational therapy and a faculty-in-residence at Stuvi2—started Sargent Choice Test Kitchen when she moved from Warren Towers in east campus to Stuvi2.

“I had the idea to approach Sargent,” Jacobs said. “I said, ‘Let me be a test kitchen,’ and they loved the idea. I realized I needed to really reinforce healthy eating and healthy cooking.”

Each week, Jacobs opens her door for students from 8pm-11pm to test out a “Sargent Choice” recipe—that is, one approved by Sargent College’s nutritionists. The nutritionists take every day recipes from sources such as Bon Appétit magazine and put it through certain criteria.

“They might try to reduce the amount of fat,” Jacobs said. “If it has oils they’ll use olive oil instead or reduce the amount of sugar. They also increase the number of grains—things like that.”

All the recipes Jacobs tests are vegetarian so that students feel comfortable coming no matter what their preferences are. She also wants students to experience what delicious vegetarian dishes can taste like.

Jacobs hopes her events will show students that the university faculty is approachable and can be a resource outside the classroom.

“As an occupational therapist, I want them to see that cooking is an everyday skill and that following a recipe isn’t that hard,” Jacobs said. “Of course, I want them to learn about good nutrition. But I also want them to have a stockpile of recipes for when they leave BU.”

It seems that Jacobs’ method is working. She has a dedicated following that even includes a student who graduated a few years ago and still enjoys coming back. Students from all over campus come, and she has even hosted members of the local Rotary Club and visiting professors.

“What I do is I try to make my apartment a home away from home,” Jacobs said. “We talk for a while, we cook, and while we’re waiting we play Bananagrams or Apples to Apples.”

Chynna Shapiro, a junior at BU and a Stuvi2 resident, tested out the brown rice sushi and miso soup at an event in September.

“I had never had the opportunity to make sushi before,” Shapiro said. “It was so cool being able to eat sushi I made myself!”

Jacobs funds Sargent Test Kitchen with her open hours budget as a faculty-in-residence. However, she does fund some of it herself.

Occasionally, local food industry professionals attend the events. In September, attendees mingled with representatives from Cindy’s Kitchen, a local company that makes sauces and dressings for retailers such as Whole Foods.

This semester, Sargent Test Kitchen has churned out some seriously tasty recipes. Jacobs and students have tried everything from peach cobbler to brown rice sushi to spinach pot stickers to caramelized onion and goat cheese pizza. Jacobs didn’t hesitate when asked what her favorite recipe has been thus far.

“The fudgy black bean brownies,” Jacobs said. “It tastes like flourless chocolate cake. And any of the recipes with quinoa. It’s great because you can add fruits or vegetables to it.”

Those who can’t make it to Sargent Test Kitchen can find all of the recipes on the Sargent Choice Nutrition Center blog. Each week, students chronicle the evening and post the full recipe. They write about what went wrong and offer tips they pick up along the way.

Upcoming recipes include baked tofu, holiday cranberry bread, Jacobs’ Hanukkah potato latkes, and oatmeal apple cookies.

So next Wednesday night when you’re contemplating where to grab dinner, remember that a healthy, home-cooked meal and quality time with fellow students is happening just a few floors above.

Check out the Sargent Choice Nutrition Center blog here.

This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and the Boston University News Service.

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