We continue to respect our heritage/amorous affair with our mother-magazine, The Blue & White by posting each issue of the magazine online. The latest issue, available this week around campus, is a cornucopia of delights: an interview with Dean Peter Awn; the quixotic quest for a Quidditch team; and a reflection on Columbia’s recent media malaise. In Campus Characters, the Blue & White introduces you to a handful of Columbians who are up to interesting and extraordinary things and whose stories beg to be shared. From the current issue, staff writer Matthew Schantz profiles Matt Powell, CC ’12, of Cooking with Bwog fame.
Ask people how they know Matt Powell, CC ’12, and they will describe a food. Sir Mike, beloved EC security guard, recalls spicy, subtle hints of ground jalapeño in the best burger he’s ever eaten. One of Powell’s closest friends, Hannah Christ, CC’12, will tell you about the fresh baked cupcakes which cemented their friendship. Someone from Powell’s San Diego high school might tell you about homemade peach cobbler.
During his sophomore year of high school, Powell gobbled down a plate of peach cobbler at an African American history event. When the caterers refused to give him their secret recipe, Powell devised his own. “That whole summer was dedicated to making peach cobblers,” Powell remembers, “which was really convenient because we had a peach tree in the backyard. I probably made five different cobblers until I made the perfect one.” When Powell shared his hard work with his classmates, cooking had hooked him. “I really liked the reaction people gave me when I gave them something delicious.”
Today Powell is co-president of the Columbia Culinary Society and demonstrates new appliances for Good Housekeeping. This summer he will be working for upscale food store Dean & Deluca. But Powell didn’t always know he wanted to devote his life to food. Originally, he planned on studying sociology, but while sociology “is interesting, it’s just not as interesting as food. I found it was much more enjoyable if I crafted my studies to center around food—for my sociology major, I’ve done a study on the kitchen in Daniel [Daniel Boulud’s New York City restaurant], I’ve done a study on the top five pastry chefs in the city.” Powell takes food seriously and it shows.
“I have strong food views,” Powell admits. “I’m very pro-butter and bacon.” Among his culinary commandments is a rule against cooking the same thing more than once a year, and a law that no dish shall be complete without three colors on the plate. In his quest to create the perfect tablescapes, Powell has tracked down props from all corners of New York and lugged them across campus. After spotting Powell brandishing a sprig of holly for a holiday meal, a friend of Powell’s texted him: “I think I saw you with a tree.”
It would be strange to see Powell without food. “Food is his personality,” Claire Bullen, CC’11, fellow co-president of Culinary Society explained. “Matt’s passion for food is so all consuming that it really is the core of who he is.” Yet food does not overwhelm Powell’s character; rather, it is a vehicle for his creativity, sense of humor, and love of friends. Bullen describes a “Gods and Goddesses” themed dinner that Powell hosted: “Matt has a special, trick fork that looks like a normal fork but can actually extend to three feet long. He began the meal eating normally with the fork before subtly extending it and grabbing food off a freshman’s plate sitting several chairs away. We joked that it was Culinary Society’s version of hazing.”
“When you think of Matt you immediately think of delicious food, but there is definitely more to him than that,” Christ reflects. “When you’re sick, he’ll make you chicken soup and bring it to your room. When you are feeling upset, he’ll come to visit you and cheer you up. He’s there for his friends unconditionally.” Sir Mike of EC puts it best: “The thing about Matt is he’s a good person and he’s a good chef.”
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