The Oberlin Review
<< Front page Arts April 21, 2006

Good Eats - by Maya Silver

In the Kitchen with: Román Corfas
College sophomore Román Corfas is a minimalist, an ascetic, if you will. Román is many other things, among them: a student, a member of a co-op and a musical talent. But more than anything, at least to the diners at Keep Co-op, Román is a chef.

Yesterday, I decided to venture into the kitchen with Román. On the menu was “Lo Mein with normal pasta.” Wearing only a pair of jeans, a black t-shirt, a blue Xerox hat and an apron, Román glided through the Keep kitchen confidently and casually, a true fish in water. With the lights out, Román worked only by the fast-dying glow of the sun from outside.

“He’s laid back, but he’s very concerned about getting a good meal out there,” noted sous chef Nick Lowery, as he chopped up some carrots. Román beamed as he drained a tray of cauliflower. Sometimes, perhaps, a little too laid back.

“He had better start wearing a hairnet on his face. That’s all I’m saying,” said dissenter William Griscom in reference to Román’s growing facial hair.

But despite his alleged violation of health code, Román has managed to imbue the kitchen with a very pleasant casualness that is rare for student head cooks. At 4:30 p.m., there was no mess to speak of. The counters were not dotted with spilled oils or crumpled packaging, but with mixing bowls, filled to the brim with radiant, chopped produce.

“That’s right. We’re having corn potatoes today,” Román exclaimed as he checked on the potatoes.

“I love corn,” commented Sydney Tanigawa, another sous chef, who was neatly cutting blocks of tofu into cubes.

And who doesn’t like corn? Román is known for his ability to find out what the people want, and give it to them on Thursday night.

“His meals are like a medley of tastes holding a gala ball on my tongue,” raved diner Jason Serko.

Román also prides himself on his punctuality.

“It is important to him to get a meal out on time. He’s only been late once,” Nick remarked.

But this doesn’t mean that Román is all work and no play.

“He’s really fun,” Sydney enthused, “He loves to dance around. He has some really sweet moves.”

Peter Nowogrodzki, another sous chef, also seems to enjoy the talented chef’s company. “I like Román. He’s like a Canada goose — really intelligent, really protective. But if you get too close to them, they hiss at you. And they’re beautiful.”

Nick disagrees. “I would compare Román to a Kingfisher, a bird with a crest that catches fish.”

Sydney thought that he was more like a “badger” or an “angry beaver.”

Regardless of his likeness to various animals, at 5:30 p.m., a meal began to take shape in Román’s kitchen. Steam had begun to collect in the air, drawing a light, oily sweat out of the cooks’ pores. Delicious smells drifted out of the pots lining the stovetop. The dining denouement was approaching and the air felt strangely magical.

“Every Thursday night is like a little miracle here. At 5:20, things look pretty bleak. But somewhere around 6, things start to turn around,” Román reflected.

Cooking, it seems, is like anything else in this bizarre jungle of a world. It is like making a bed, eating a dozen hot dogs or swimming the Alcatraz.

I asked Román what he would cook if he had no limitations, no time constraints.

“All of the foods would start with the letter ‘O.’”

“Like okra?” I asked.

“Yes,” Román answered pensively. “That’s the first one I thought of.”

I suddenly felt that I understood his vision.

“This kitchen is a piece of shit,” Román explained, “But, I mean — not that I’m not nostalgic about it.”


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