At the dining hall, some students take cuisine creativity into their own hands. Piling plates with bizarre combinations or making art sculptures out of ice cream sundaes, these budding chefs might want to think about becoming contestants for a new Emerson show in the works: Dining Hall Star.
According to supervising producer Jeremy Miller, Dining Hall Star is backed by Emerson Independent Video (EIV) and will air on the Emerson Channel.
The junior visual and media arts major said the competition-style reality series features two teams of two contestants each, who compete against each other to construct unique dishes from a selection of the cafeteria’s food—an appetizer, an entree, and a dessert. According to Miller, each opposing side has 8-10 minutes to create each course. Contestants may only use the food available that day except for one secret ingredient per dish that they may bring to the competition. They have a week in advance to plan what they will do.
“They’re racing to make plates that are creative, nutritionally balanced, presentable, and that taste good,” Miller said. “Those are the four judging criteria.”
Miller said that the panel assessing each meal consists of four judges — two Emerson faculty members and two food service employees. The winning participants get the Dining Hall Star title and one of their meals featured on the eatery’s menu, he said.
According to Miller, Dining Hall Star is a special production, meaning they release two episodes per semester. Though the exact air date has not been announced, Miller said he hopes both hour-long episodes will run before Christmas break. The first segment was filmed on Wednesday when the contestants met their team coaches. The rest of the episode is being shot Friday at 4:30 p.m. in the dining hall, and attendance is open to the Emerson community.
Miller said the idea for the television program came from another student, Marcus Shutrump, over an impromptu dinner.
“He was talking with some friends about the crazy things they make, and this thing came into fruition,” Miller said.
Shutrump is another co-producer of Dining Hall Star, along with Jeffrey Taylor, both of whom are also junior visual and media arts majors.
Miller acts as supervising producer, Taylor is the technical producer, and Shutrump is the creative producer, said Miller.
According to Shutrump, planning officially kicked off last spring when EIV became interested in his idea.
“I ended up talking to them, and they got really excited about it,” he said. “Within a week, me and my two producers all decided that we wanted to jump into this.”
While the trio had its full budget of $1,100 approved by EIV, they also began an online fundraising campaign that ran for one month on Indiegogo.com. The fundraiser featured a video from the three producers explaining the premise of Dining Hall Star and announcing their goal of $500. Page visitors could donate any amount, but for people who donated certain levels of money, the group offered prizes, such as coffee mugs, posters, and a cookbook with recipes from the contestants and fans, according to the website.
The group exceeded its official goal, raising $525 collected from a total of 21 people on Monday.
“EIV funded us very well,” Shutrump said. “But with this supplemental bit, we wanted to make our [equipment] rentals better, and we’re able to do that now. Also, for contingency in general, it’s good to have a little bit of extra.”
Both Shutrump and Miller said the Dining Hall Star team has gotten a resounding amount of support, both from peers and faculty.
“I thought it was a very interesting project,” said Emily Putnam, a Dining Hall Star judge and part-time professor. “It’s a creative approach to being involved at Emerson, and I hadn’t heard of anything like it before.”
Putnam said she heard about the idea from Shutrump, who was a previous student of hers.
She said she wants to go into judging without any preconceived notions.
“I just want to keep an open mind and have fun,” she said.
Miller said the dining staff has been particularly helpful.
“We were going to comp them for food and their workers for overtime [during shooting], but they told us not to worry about it,” Miller said.
Despite the welcoming Aramark environment, Miller and Shutrump said it has been challenging to film in the space.
“Nothing has ever really been shot in the dining hall before,” Miller said. “It’s not impossible, but it’s a lot of paperwork. The biggest struggle we’ve had is getting all the shooting permits.”
Miller said some of the specific forms included public safety, campus management, and food concerns such as health codes.
Though they have only been approved for the fall, Miller said that if all goes well, the group has every intention of continuing.
Shutrump said that while there has been a lot of stress, he’s excited for the show to air.
“Our whole production team, we’re good under pressure, and it’s coming together,” he said. “We worked like hell and did not sleep very much...and now we’re here: the week of the first shoot.”
Note: In a previous version of this article, Jeffrey Taylor's name was incorrectly listed as Jeffrey Marcus.