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Vail Commons, Dean Rusk Celebrate 50 Years of Study Abroad

Vail Commons Chef Zac Austin prepares for lunch.
Vail Commons Chef Zac Austin prepares for lunch.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Davidson's study abroad program, and to celebrate the milestone staff members from the Dean Rusk International Studies Office and chefs from Vail Commons are working together to plan a series of lunches spotlighting the cuisine from a diverse selection of study abroad destinations.

"We wanted to honor and commemorate study abroad throughout the school year," Dean Rusk Coordinator of Study Abroad Jessica Williams said, "and these lunches are a great way to do that."

The series began in September with a "port cities" themed lunch, featuring dishes from South Africa, China and Italy, among others. In October, focus shifted to South American cuisine, and on Monday, Commons guests got a taste of Nepal.

At the helm of the project is Vail Commons Chef Zac Austin, who has been planning the menus for the lunches.

New Recipes, New Perspective

"I like my menus to expose people to foods they won't normally see, and these lunches do just that," Austin said. "I want to open them up to try new foods."

A graduate of Johnson and Wales University, cooking is actually Austin's second career. He worked as a Harley Davidson motorcycle technician for years before deciding to pursue his passion for cooking.

"With a motorcycle, you do something, and it either works or it doesn't. Every day was more or less the same," Austin said. "With cooking, you can incorporate new ideas and perspectives. I like to experiment with new ingredients, try new things."

And the Commons kitchen is just the place to do so. Executive Chef Craig Mombert encourages his staff members to experiment, try new things and bring new ideas to the table.

So when Williams approached him with the idea to team up to celebrate study abroad, the idea fit perfectly with his vision for his staff and the Commons.

In addition to providing his staff with professional development opportunities and chances to try new things, the themed meals also open guests' eyes (and stomachs) to new experiences, Mombert said. Knowing about different international cuisines helps prepare students for life after Davidson, he said, as they may find themselves in professional situations where that knowledge and global perspective is useful.

Also at the lunches, the Dean Rusk office hosts an info table, providing information about the different programs Davidson offers for study abroad, and answering any questions students may have.

The study abroad lunch series will continue through the school year, and already Austin is planning the menus for spring semester. He is still finalizing plans, he said, but expects to have one lunch spotlighting South African cuisine, and one featuring dishes from Australia/New Zealand.

"Craig [Mombert] and his team are so creative and enthusiastic, and have been great to work with on this," Williams said.