Recipe Box Café has served up meals, experience for more than 50 years

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When Judy Beto looks back at her more than three decades of involvement with the Recipe Box Café, some memories have disappeared into the steam of the kitchen – like the spaghetti-and-meatball meal a former professor recalled Beto planning as a Rosary College student in the 1970s.

But for Beto, who returned to her alma mater as a faculty member in 1990 and has run the Café program ever since, the thing that does stick out is how the program has evolved over the years.

“We used to serve things like spaghetti and meatballs and the other heavy things it was common to have in the 1960s and 1970s,” Beto says. “Today’s menu should be higher in fiber, have more fruits and vegetables, and have lower servings of proteins and fats, and our meals reflect that.”

It’s important, she says, for a program preparing students to work in the fields of dietetics, food service management and culinary arts to keep up with current trends in both nutrition science and food culture. When the Christopher Nutrition Sciences Center opened in Parmer Hall in 2007, the program gained access to a large prep and learning kitchen with state-of-the-art equipment.

“Our students need to practice what we’re preaching,” Beto says. “It’s great to talk about eating healthy, but this program actually gets them into the kitchen to cook and serve healthy meals that still have to be delicious. They get to see what actually works and what doesn’t.”

The Recipe Box Café started in 1959 to help home economics students meet certification requirements for quantity food preparation. In continuous operation since then, the program brings nutrition sciences students together once a week to plan, prepare and serve a healthy and tasty meal to more than 60-plus patrons.

A different student is designated manager each week and is responsible for planning the menu, purchasing food, organizing workers and overseeing execution of the meal. Students also work with professional chefs to learn new techniques and ensure quality and safety in the kitchen.

“If you want to work in food service or be a dietician, it’s helpful to get to see behind the scenes and learn how to manage everything,” says Danielle Miller, a senior nutrition sciences major.

For her turn as manager, Miller planned a vegetarian meal of brown rice-lentil burgers, sweet potato fries, coleslaw and strawberry sorbet. For $10, diners enjoy a three-course meal served on white tablecloths in the atrium of Parmer Hall. Diners also receive copies of the recipes so they can replicate the dishes at home.

Other meals from this year include banana leaf-wrapped salmon with quinoa and fruit salsa; coconut-curried chicken with edamame and black rice; and stuffed cabbage with pork, pearl barley and tomato sauce.

“Many of our patrons in their 70’s and 80’s have told me that they thought they’d eaten everything until they came to us,” Beto says. “And what’s amazing is that many of them have been coming to us for over 30 years. They’re still alive in their 80’s and they’re healthy, and I hope a little bit of that has to do with what they learned in the Recipe Box Café.”

To the dismay of many of those loyal patrons, Beto will retire after the 2011-2012 school year, leaving the Recipe Box Café to begin another new era. But she’s confident that no matter the changes that come, the tradition of the program will live on.

“I’ll see students five years after they’ve left Dominican, and they have such poignant memories of the Recipe Box Café, because it was the first time they got to take the giant leap of being in charge,” Beto says. “What’s really exciting is that whoever takes over will inherit both a wonderful facility to work with and a wonderful tradition to take in new directions.”