University students enjoy Windy City cuisine

Dining service’s annual series featuring recipes of the Great Chefs of Chicago gets under way.

By: Jeff Milgram
   Princeton University senior Douglas Rosenthal plops down two plates brimming with food on a table in the VIP dining room at Forbes College.
   The plates are piles high with goodies not usually associated with college dining halls: roasted garlic bruschetta, martini mix salad, wild mushroom ravioli, Southwest chicken satay, chili-glazed striped bass, tarragon mustard-encrusted tenderloin and two pieces of Parmesan and herb chicken breast.
   "I’ve got a good range so far," said Mr. Rosenthal, a student at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs who plans to go to Harvard Law School after graduation. "The bruschetta was really good."
   And why not? The dinner was one in Princeton Dining Services’ annual series featuring recipes by the Great Chefs of Chicago. This year’s dinner, which was served in each of the university’s dining halls on different days this past week, featured recipes from the kitchens of Daniel LaGarde, executive chef of the Palmer House Hilton in Chicago, the oldest continuously operated hotel in North America.
   Mr. Rosenthal, who makes his home in Washington, D.C., took his meals at Forbes during his freshman and sophomore years. He is now a member of Quadrangle Club, one of the Prospect Avenue eating clubs. He said the meal was a big step up from pizza. "It would be one of the dinners I’d look forward to," he said. "It’s clearly restaurant-quality food."
   He should know. Mr. Rosenthal admits that he is a TV Food Network junkie and once considered becoming a chef.
   Princeton’s Dining Services director, Stuart J. Orefice, met Chef LaGarde at meetings of the Tyson Food Corp. advisory council. Since May they’ve been trading e-mails with recipes and photos of food.
   When Mr. Orefice went out to Chicago he was impressed by the size of the Palmer House’s food operation.
   "He has more seats on his property that we have here at the university," Mr. Orefice said.
   Chef LaGarde comes from a food family. His father and uncle were both in the business and Chef LaGarde donned his first set of whites when he was 4. A native of Quebec, he worked a catered wedding with his uncle, who assigned him the position of "chef of the night," handling plates to guests at the start of the buffet line.
   A graduate of the Quebec Culinary School, Chef LaGarde has been with Hilton for 13 years, working at four different properties, including the Hilton in East Brunswick. He has cooked for President Bill Clinton, Israeli President Ezer Weizman and Saudi Prince Bandar Bin Sultan.
   The Palmer House dates back to 1870 and was rebuilt after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. It was the first hotel to use telephones, an elevator and electric lights.
   "It’s quite a landmark in the city," Chef LaGarde said.
   The hotel has 1,649 guest rooms, 185,000 square feet of meeting space and four floors of kitchens.
   Chef LaGarde supervises four different restaurants and lounges, banquet facilities, and a kosher kitchen for bar and bat mitzvahs and Jewish weddings. Each segment of his operation makes money, he said.
   Chef LaGarde believes hotel restaurants had no choice but to improve over the past decade. "There are so many choices," Chef LaGarde said. "There are thousands and thousands of choices."
   For the Princeton meal he chose different ethnic dishes from his four restaurants. But he also wanted the dishes to be attractive and possible to prepare in large quantities.
   He had to adapt one of his signature dishes, the Martini Mix salad — mesclun greens, cherry tomatoes and a lemony dressing usually made individually, tableside, in a martini shaker. It was shaken, not stirred, but then placed on a serving tray for students to pick up with tongs.
   Mr. Rosenthal didn’t quite give it a gold medal. "They did shake it like a martini — they get an A for presentation," he said.
   Sophomore Jennifer Belzel of San Francisco loved the chili-glazed striped bass with fruit chutney.
   "The bass was amazing," said Miss Belzel, a vegetarian who eats fish, but not chicken or meat. She also loved the wild mushroom ravioli, giving Chef LaGarde good grades for the meat chunks of mushrooms.
   And who can resist dessert? "I’m sort of a chocolate addict," admitted Miss Belzel. "The brownies were extremely moist."
   Chef LaGarde was accompanied on the trip by his wife, two young children and in-laws. The university hosted them at its own Palmer House, the official guest house at Bayard Lane and Nassau Street.