Quarantine Eats

Three Tufts alumni share tips for quick and creative cooking during the pandemic
"These days, I like comforting dishes that require little to no work and reheat nicely. And for something decadent, I like a good caramel sauce," said Chris Poldoian, A12.
"These days, I like comforting dishes that require little to no work and reheat nicely. And for something decadent, I like a good caramel sauce," said Chris Poldoian, A12.
June 17, 2020

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Fried rice with leftover veggies and frozen pork. A brisket that appears again in sandwiches and soup. A caramel sauce that’s both decadent and easy to make.

As Tufts graduates adjust to being furloughed or laid off by restaurants around the country during the COVID-19 pandemic, they are also making the most of what’s in their fridges and pantries, whipping up quick and easily reheatable dishes and pulling out quality ingredients and old favorites to feed both body and soul.

We checked in with Arun Gupta, A05, Melissa (Gelman) King, J89, and Chris Poldoian, A12, to hear what’s cooking—both in the kitchen, and in their post-pandemic planning.

Arun Gupta became executive chef at DOSA in San Francisco, which has partially closed, in 2017, working with locally sourced produce to create dishes with traditional Indian flavors. He began his career as a line cook at New York’s Gramercy Tavern in 2007, then was chef de cuisine at that city’s Maysville.Arun Gupta became executive chef at DOSA in San Francisco in 2017, creating dishes with traditional Indian flavors.

1. What favorite ingredients do you commonly have at home?

Rice for fried rice, and dough for pizza. Our nearly five-year-old daughter can put ingredients on pizza, and either is a great way to use whatever is in the house. For fried rice, we’ve added leftover grilled artichokes, grilled fennel, chunks of pork from the freezer, and extra snap peas.

2. Suggestions for cooking during quarantine?

Now that no one’s traveling, it’s fun to cook food that brings back a memory or an experience we’ve had. My wife and I met at Gramercy Tavern—so we might make items from there, such as rigatoni Bolognese, or marinated scallops from the seafood supplier to our main restaurant, which has been doing home deliveries of beautiful fresh seafood and farmer’s market vegetables. We want to support them, so we’ve been seeing what they send us and cooking from there.

3. Steps you are taking to address COVID-19’s impact on your work?

I’m reading as much as possible and listening to industry people, trying to learn what to do next to be part of a healthy industry. I was interested in the April 28 New York Magazine article with Tom Colicchio, “People Don’t Know How Bleak It Is: There is no road map to reopening New York’s restaurants.” Restaurants have such a tiny profit margin: In many areas, the minimum wage has doubled, and there hasn’t been a major increase in what the public is willing to pay. There needs to be an awareness of what it costs to source, cook, and sell food.

A lifelong cook who has also worked in the TV business, Melissa King is director of sales and events at New York City catering company Naturally Delicious.Melissa King likes to get several meals from one preparation.

1. What favorite ingredients do you commonly have at home?

We’re flying through eggs. Where breakfast used to be more grab and go, my kids are now making eggs. We also keep around several types of flour for bread.

2. Any suggestions for cooking during quarantine?

Lately I’m all about getting several meals from one preparation. Recently I made a thick, smoky brisket, which we had for dinner. Afterward I pulled apart the roast and we had it on buns with barbecue sauce, for lunch the next day. I froze the rest. The next time we had chilly weather, I tucked it into a beef and barley mushroom stew.

3. Steps you are taking to address COVID19’s impact on your work?

We have applied for every loan and grant out there. While we were fortunate to receive the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan, it must be used for payroll in the next 8 weeks; it’s unlikely we’ll be able to cater a party in that time period. Hospitality and restaurant organizations are lobbying to make the rules more flexible, so we are optimistic. In the interim, my company is selling provision boxes (dairy, grains, local farm produce) and specialty boxes like a happy hour box (cheese, charcuterie, beer and wine). It began as a way to sell our stocked inventory, but we’ve found that people want fresh, high quality food delivered, and we're happy to be able to provide that service. 

A sommelier, Chris Poldoian became general manager and wine director at the celebrated Houston wine bar Camerata in 2016.Sommelier Chris Poldoian says his two favorite ingredients to use at home are olive oil and butter.

1. What favorite ingredients do you commonly have at home?

Really good olive oil and butter. Right now I have olive oils from Montemelino Winery in Umbria and California Olive Ranch. My butter is from Bordier and Kerrrygold.

2. Any suggestions for cooking during quarantine?

These days, I like comforting dishes that require little to no work and reheat nicely. I love incorporating citrus into my salads. And for something decadent, I like a good caramel sauce. Drizzled on homemade banana bread or store-bought ice cream, or eaten by the spoonful, it’s the best.

3. Steps you are taking to address COVID19’s impact on your work?

Like many in food and beverage, I recently found myself furloughed for the foreseeable future. But after working 70 hours a week for years, I’m rediscovering my interests and recently created a podcast, By The Glass, in which I interview fellow industry professionals. A recent episode was on the sustainability of mezcal and the role of fine wine in Mexican cuisine. I’ve daydreamed for years of podcasting, but never managed to carve out the time. Now I’m able to use this project to stay positive and productive and connect with colleagues.