“So we can do chili and cornbread … Do we have a cornbread recipe that we liked?” asks LSA junior Melanie Adams.

“I have a good cornbread recipe with tomatoes and cheese on the inside. The only problem is that I haven’t cooked it all the way through yet,” says Engineering junior Ben Isaacoff.

Looking for inspiration, the members of Project Flavor flip through recent issues of Cook’s Illustrated and Bon Appétit spread out on the table, while glossy images of colorful pastas and rich chocolate desserts flash beneath their fingertips. Meanwhile, Rachael Levine, an LSA senior, turns her laptop to face the group, the screen displaying a gooey cookie bar dessert.

“Do you want to do those oat things for dessert? It has nuts in it, but I’d get rid of them,” she says.

After a discussion that successfully leaves everyone slightly hungrier than they were before the meeting started, Project Flavor has come up with its menu for its Friday cook date.

As a club combining community service with the culinary arts, Project Flavor cooks weekly gourmet meals for the occupants of the Ronald McDonald House — a residence located across the street from the University Hospital that offers housing for little-to-no charge to families who have a child going through extended medical treatment.

“It’s very rewarding when people come up at the end of the meal and they’ll say, ‘Oh, we love this group,’ because we don’t cook boxed things or just like spaghetti and stuff,” Levine said.

“Sometimes I’ve had people who are like, ‘This is so good, can I have the recipe for this?’ ” she added. “We’re doing something for other people, but we’re also enjoying it at the same time and it’s nice when people think its tastes good.”

For the members of Project Flavor, food is a common passion and consumes much of their attention, making the volunteering aspect of the group an added bonus.

“Yeah, I actually forget sometimes that we do this really positive volunteer thing,” Isaacoff said.

Isaacoff also emphasized his interest in healthy food. Growing up, his mother cooked tasty, high quality food and his family went out to eat often. When he went to college, Isaacoff needed a way to learn how to cook, which is why he joined Project Flavor.

“I was accustomed to eating really well prepared food … I went off to college and left my mother behind and I was like, ‘How am I gonna eat good food?’ ” Isaacoff said.

According to Adams, the group constantly learns from each another in the kitchen. It was Project Flavor that has taught her how to cook things she had no idea how to cook before — like bread.

Project Flavor does its best to cook with as many fresh, healthy ingredients as possible, and many of its menus include tortillas or bread made from scratch.

“We’ve made our own lasagna noodles and we’ve done ravioli in the past — that’s always fun,” Levine said, adding that one of his favorite dishes was homemade apple dumplings that consisted of apples covered in dough and caramel sauce.

Experimentation with recipes at home is sometimes reflected in Project Flavor’s menus too.

“I’ll say, ‘You guys, I made this awesome black bean thing last week, I think we should try it at the cook date’ … We just have constant teaching-learning experiences,” Adams said.

Adams started cooking in college after she took a course on the philosophy and the ethics of food.

“I think that whoever made that class owes me, because I talk about it all the time. It basically changed my life,” she said. At the end of the class, she had to cook a meal for all the class members, with an ethical reasoning behind the food that she prepared.

“Mine was that I wanted to use all local food for my meal, and from then on I’ve gone to the Farmers Market pretty much every weekend. I’ve really changed my lifestyle and become very interested in cooking,” Adams said.

In fact, the course was so influential for Adams that she designed her own food systems major to accommodate her interest.

“Since U of M doesn’t have a nutrition program … I decided I wanted to major in something I was passionate about, so I wrote my own,” she said.

Project Flavor also tries to use as much local produce as possible. Until October or November, Adams goes to the Farmers Market on Wednesdays specifically to get the ingredients the group needs for its cook date that week.

“I think that it’s silly for us to be purchasing something like spinach that’s from Meijer and has been shipped halfway around the world when we have really great quality spinach in Ann Arbor,” she said.

“I like and appreciate good food, healthy foods; I feel like stuff you get a lot of times in restaurants is such low quality … You don’t feel good afterward,” Isaacoff added. “But when I make stuff, it’s fresh and it’s a lot of whole ingredients.”

According to Levine, apart from how good it tastes, there are other reasons why she savors the Project Flavor experience.

“It kind of makes you feel good when you make something that tastes good,” Levine said.

For Project Flavor, it’s all in the name. Masterfully maneuvering its way through the kitchen at the Ronald McDonald House to serve a scintillating meal that delights residents’ taste buds, the group gives a piquant kick to the vapid and mundane. But in its simplest form, Project Flavor isn’t just a club about volunteering — it’s a group of students who really love to cook.

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