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Student Read, Student Written, Student Led Since 1878

The Knox Student

Student Read, Student Written, Student Led Since 1878

The Knox Student

Student Read, Student Written, Student Led Since 1878

The Knox Student

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April 15, 2024
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Revisiting the boldest culinary creations of Joseph Peterson, our outgoing cafeteria executive chef

Revisiting+the+boldest+culinary+creations+of+Joseph+Peterson%2C+our+outgoing+cafeteria+executive+chef

As some of you may be aware from CFO Paul Eisenmenger’s recent email, there are some sizable shifts in Dining Services staffing beginning next year. Something not mentioned in this email, however, could be perhaps the most consequential piece of news in recent caf history. Executive Chef Joseph Peterson (otherwise known as Chef Joe) will not be returning to the halls of the Hard Knox Café this upcoming fall.

 Even though I am sure that he is moving on to greener pastures, I can’t help but feel legitimate grief. I’ll be leaving myself at the end of this term, but still I feel a deep sorrow for what this campus will lose without this lanky, bearded savant gracing our Hard Knox Café. 

Perhaps you have only been able to get mere glances of him gilding around in his kitchen whites, which were inevitably smeared with some experimental demi-glace. Or, maybe you’ve seen him striding out of the cafeteria at the end of the workday, Cubs baseball cap perched over his disheveled hair. The license plate for his beloved Jeep Wrangler is appropriately titled “CHEFJ0E,” and is also appropriately Cubs themed. 

While Chef Joe was responsible for making sure that the day to day operations of the caf were functioning (including overseeing onerous tasks such as the preparation of marinara and stocks), he is perhaps best typified by his various creative endeavors. Several times during my years as a student prep cook, he’d pull me away from the potatoes that I was chopping and would present a taster spoon loaded with bourbon-infused pork belly, mushroom jerky or another spectacle that he was crafting for a special event. It was these moments where the passion of Chef Joe really stood out. 

 In this requiem for Chef Joe, I will take you on a brief literary history of three of his most notable culinary creations. While some were admittedly more successful than others, each one of these edible works is deeply emblematic of the passion and spunk of Chef Joe. 

Acorn Tea

Chef Joe was known to venture out of the kitchen from time to time to make an appearance in Ben Farrer’s course Environment and the Apocalypse. Chef Joe is an avid doomsday prepper, and would jump at the opportunity to teach about the various ways to live off of the land. When I took this class, Chef Joe had us foraging for nubby acorns outside of SMC. The next day, he then soaked the acorns to remove toxins, and then roasted them until they were deeply aromatic. The following class, Chef Joe wheeled into class a large carafe full of the steaming, dark-hued “tea.” Served in a delicate teacup with a sprig of mint, I was surprised by the drinkability and smoothness of it. Of course, Chef Joe’s grin was wide the whole time we were tasting. 

Tomato Sashimi

Chef Joe, despite having an incredible workload, always sought opportunities to try new recipes. While some were less successful (see: Watermelon Ham), some were actually innovative and mind-blowing. During Earth Month 2019, Chef Joe hosted a DIY vegan sushi workshop. I still remember the mad-scientist-like expression he had on his face (the dilation of his pupils, the ever so subtle foaming of the mouth) when he was describing his plans for the sushi event earlier in the week during one of my kitchen shifts. Using a combination of soy sauce and other ingredients, he was planning to marinate blanched tomatoes so that they develop the color, consistency, and taste of sushi-grade tuna. I was suspecting of the effectiveness of this plan until I actually went to the event and tried it. To my surprise, it really worked out. During the event, you could tell that Chef Joe was in his element whipping up rolls at a breakneck pace and speedily slicing up avocados without even looking at the cutting board as we all watched in awe. I still remember this event as one of the more successful (and certainly the tastiest) club events I have ever attended at Knox. 

Watermelon Ham

I consider the Watermelon Ham as not just a food item, but a moment in history. Watermelon Ham was a “Where were you when there was Watermelon Ham in the caf?” kind of benchmark in the history of the Hard Knox Café. 

The idea? Curing and smoking an entire watermelon as if it were a meat product. The occasion? Meatless Monday, perhaps one of the times in the caf where tensions among meat eaters and vegetarians rise to a boiling point. The end product? Gingivitis red segments of smoky, chewy and cloyingly sweet “ham” that proved to be one of the boldest of all of Chef Joe’s works. While I can’t say that I would ever want to eat it again, this moment marked a moment in history that no conventional watermelon would ever dare achieve. 

Regardless of the success of the end product, we have to realize the privilege of these moments. Nowhere in the job description of the Hard Knox Café Executive Chef does it say that you must be an enthusiastic doomsday prepper who also knows how to whip up some mean plant based sashimi. Chef Joe could have just stuck with his marinaras and stocks, and not even bother to try to push the limits of what the cafeteria could offer. We will be incredibly lucky to have a predecessor that values spontaneity and creativity in the same way. 

As long as that creativity doesn’t involve curing and smoking fruit. 

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