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Dining with Dorothy: An Exploration in Eating Real

In Dorothy Calimeris’ Eating Real class, students are taught the value of eating and cooking healthy. (Mackenzie Fargo)
In Dorothy Calimeris’ Eating Real class, students are taught the value of eating and cooking healthy. (Mackenzie Fargo)

From working in the kitchens of Martha Stewart to owning her restaurant, it would be an understatement to say that Dorothy Calimeris is passionate about food.

“The thing about food is that it is such a hard job and usually so underpaid,” Calimeris said. “You have to be passionate about it. Otherwise, you’re not going to put up with it.” And her passion comes not only from cooking, but from presentation.

Calimeris, who is now the Director of Auxiliary Services on campus, began working at Mills as a high school student during the summer sessions in the dining halls and kitchens. She was able to gain experience in food preparation as well as proper serving and dining etiquette through serving students and faculty. It was then Calimeris was taught the art of entertaining by former Director of Housing Management and Dining Services, Elizabeth Burwell; at the time the dining experience at Mills involved fresh cut flowers, linens, real silverware and candlelight. This love for entertaining continues to spill over into Calimeris’ teaching of her Eating Real class. Students not only learn the value of eating real whole foods, but also how to truly enjoy the food that they are preparing.

“I think my favorite part of the class (besides eating, which was an absolutely A+ experience) was playing fancy chef, arranging the food on the serving platters and my plate, and then coming home and showing my roommate what I made that day,” senior Eleanor Strong said in an email.

Calimeris believes that you should not only enjoy making food, but also enjoy eating it.

“The thing that we are conditioned to forget about or miss is the satisfaction of eating,” she said. “If there is something you want, and you know exactly what it is, and you go to the store and get it and go home and make it and thoroughly enjoy it, you have truly dined.” 

On the first day of class for her spring session, Calimeris asked students, “What does eating real mean to you?”

“I think that it means eating things that you know where they came from and also food that is minimally processed,” junior and Campanil editor, Mackenzie Fargo said.

Calimeris believes that there is no mystery to healthy eating, as it is really about eating whole foods and messing with them as little as possible. To start off the first day of class, Calimeris brings a variety of sugars, salts and butters for students to taste, so they can see for themselves what they do and do not like. There is no right or wrong in a student’s preference. She tells the students that a large part of the class is simply discovering what they love. And the beginning of that discovery can start with something as simple as what kind of butter they like in chocolate chip cookies.

“To me, there is no other chocolate chip cookie besides one with salted butter,” Calimeris said. 

Students are given questionnaires before the beginning of class and are asked to describe what they hope to learn to make throughout the course. Sometimes an entire class ends up wanting to make the same thing, such as a semester where the whole class wanted to make pizza. Calimeris tries to cover a wide variety of dishes when possible and always informs the class of the total bill of all the supplies needed for the meal.

“I buy organic and local when possible,” Calimeris said. “There are less expensive options like the farmer’s markets and Berkeley Bowl. I am a firm believer that you need to do what works best for your body, budget and time.”

According to Calimeris, a huge misconception about healthy eating is the idea what works for one person will work for another. To her, every diet book is trying to convince the public at large of this misconception.

“I’ve tried to not eat meat, but my body needs animal protein,” she said. “I believe that you need to honor your body and listen to what it is telling you.”

Even though the media pushes ideas of “non-fat” and “low-fat”, Calimeris does not fall for the myths of these marketing strategies.

“It’s all about trends and what buzzwords advertisers are using,” she said. “There is no such thing as “fat-free. The only thing that is fat-free by nature is angel food cake.”

Calimeris hopes that if the food curriculum at Mills were ever expanded, it would include an emphasis on women and their relationship with food. She has seen not only the effect of negative and positive relationships with food in her own life, but also how food can easily control young women.

“One big piece of it would be exploring women and food and eating issues–how we let that usurp our creativity and power throughout our lives, and how sad that really is,” she said.

But one of Calimeris’ biggest beliefs is that cooking and food should bring nothing but joy and satisfaction. There should be no guilt; there should only be pleasure. During the first class meeting, Calimeris reads the class a quote the she has loved for years by M.F.K. Fisher: “Since we’re forced to nourish ourselves, why not do it with all possible skill, delicacy, and ever-increasing skill?”