Steve Charles—Since his arrival on campus, President Pat White has been encouraging members of the Wabash community to get to know one another better and to join in the "grand conversation" of the liberal arts. He wants those conversations to happen in and out of the classroom, in professor’s offices and homes, and wherever members of this community gather.

Including his own kitchen.

When Pat heard about the culinary expertise of Robert Van Kirk — Sphinx Club member and president of the campus’s most popular group, the Wabash Cooking Club — he invited them to Elston Homestead. First Lady Chris White welcomed Van Kirk and fellow Cooking Club member Josh Owens ’07 and a remarkable evening ensued. (Click here for photos.)

Robert, who has been cooking since his boyhood days and whose father was in the restaurant business, served as chef and teacher, offering a primer on everything from the smoking point of various cooking oils to the right way to prepare juicy, succulent, and non-rubbery shrimp.

But as delicious as the meal was (and this guy can really cook — I’ve never tasted better shrimp), the conversations were even better. Robert had prepared some of the food ahead of time and had intentionally chosen seafood and beef dishes that he could cook while carrying on conversations with his welcoming host and hostess.

"If you choose something more complex, you’ll leave your guests to fend for themselves while you toil away in the kitchen," Robert said. "But this sort of dish actually facilitates conversation. Your guests can be in the kitchen with you, and you can continue to enjoy one another while the food is cooking. It helps everyone feel more relaxed and at home."

And, on this night, at home in the President’s kitchen.

These sorts of social tips, along with culinary skills, are being taught at the Cooking Club’s weekly meetings, which draw scores of students to the Delt kitchen every Sunday.

And if Van Kirk’s and Owens’ dinner for the President is any indication of how food can be a catalyst for "the grand conversation," the Cooking Club ought to become a required course!

In photo: Robert Van Kirk, Josh Owens, and First Lady Chris White enjoy cooking and conversation in the Elston Homestead kitchen.