BUFFALO, N.Y. — On April 6, 2,000 University at Buffalo
students will join Julius Caesar and other historical figures for
an authentic ancient Roman feast of cinnamon lamb soup, carrots and
parsnips with cumin and honey glaze, Cato the Elder’s
cheesecake, and more.
The themed dinner, “Eat Like a Roman,” is hosted by
UB’s Department of Classics and Campus and Dining Shops.
The dining center will be transformed. It will be as if guests
are stepping out of a time machine into ancient Rome.
Roman music will set the mood, and diners will be greeted in
Latin. Classics students will demonstrate toga wrapping. A fountain
and chariot will serve as backdrops for photos, and exhibits will
display examples of ancient pottery and cookware. Dining staff will
dress the part, donning gear including typical Greco-Roman clothes,
Roman armor and a Julius Caesar costume.
“Eat Like a Roman” will take place from 5-8:30 p.m.
on Sunday, April 6 at the Crossroads Culinary Center in the Red
Jacket Quad of the Ellicott Complex on UB’s North Campus.
Media are invited to attend.
The dinner is inspired by a one-credit course of the same name
offered through the Undergraduate Academies’ Discovery
Seminar Program, which provides first and second-year students with
thought-provoking learning experiences in a small-class
Donald McGuire, adjunct associate professor of classics, and
Martha Malamud, professor of classics, meet with 19 students every
other week in a kitchen on campus to discuss, cook and dine on
Ancient Roman cuisine.
“We’ve studied the Romans for 25 to 30 years, and
it’s fascinating to taste what they tasted,” says
McGuire, also undergraduate program director in the Office of the
Dean of Undergraduate Education. “We want the students to
understand how important food is in everyday life and that there
are social conventions and customs that surround every
At Sunday’s “Eat Like a Roman” dinner, the
course’s students will staff informational booths on various
aspects of ancient Roman eating, such as domestic architecture; the
spice, grain and wine trades; and household slaves. Guests are
encouraged to wear a costume, with the best-dressed receiving
“We do several themed events each year, but nothing to the
extent like this event will be,” said Jeff Brady, Campus and
Dining Shops executive director. “Our executive chef Neal
Plazio has out done himself with the menu – everything is
very authentic and each dish tastes absolutely amazing.”
For the “Eat Like a Roman” course, McGuire and
Malamud often prepare the main dish – usually a meat –
at home, and the students cook condiments and side dishes during
class. The fare has included the Roman equivalent of pita bread,
barley and vegetable soup, cinnamon and almond stuffed dates, and
roasted pork with pine nut sauce.
Meals were developed from the recipes of Apicius, a source and
inspiration for the only surviving Roman cookbook, as well as from
a variety of recorded recipes from ancient writers.
And don’t expect to find the garlic and tomato-heavy
dishes of modern Italian cuisine. Tomatoes were a New World plant,
and garlic was considered unfit for consumption at the time by the
middle and upper classes. Most ancient recipes relied on wine- and
vinegar-based sauces, barley, sesame and herbs to create a sweet
and sour contrast. This is fusion food — tastes of the
Mediterranean melded with tastes of the Middle East and Asia.
The students cook in every class: “That is the whole
point,” says McGuire. “Each group has to read their
assigned recipe, think through the preparation in advance, and then
actually prepare a dish that the whole class will eat.”
The students also record their cooking experiences with Roman
food, as well as meals from their own culture, on a class blog:
“We have a diverse class that reflects America today, and
that is perfect for the course, because the Roman world was so
diverse,” says Malamud. “Our first blog assignments
asked the students to describe the contents of their refrigerator
when they were growing up, and to talk about ritual food in a
holiday they celebrate.”
Many of the dishes for Sunday’s dinner were taste-tested
in the “Eat Like A Roman” class. Others were served to
a select gathering of faculty from the UB Academies.
The menu includes:
- Soups: cinnamon lamb soup, chicken pottage with
meatballs, and lentil soup
- Appetizers and Salads: tuna leek salad, olive and celery
pate, melon with mint dressing, marinated olives with herbs, and
assorted breads and cheeses
- Main Courses: rustic pasta with chicken (although pasta
was not ancient fare, the sauce is from an ancient recipe), patina
apiciana, baked ham with figs, Parthian chicken, and porchetta
- Sides: spring cabbage with cumin, carrots and parsnips
with cumin and honey glaze, and honey and sesame
- Desserts: peaches in a cumin sauce, Cato the Elder's
cheesecake, and rice pudding