Opened a year ago in the Powell Campus Center of Alfred University (AU) in Upstate New York, the Community Table has been fulfilling its intended function as an intimate space where all the AU campus community as well as area residents could get together over a variety of food-centric events.
The meals served at Community Table are often made from locally grown ingredients with an added touch of learning opportunities, but the food is not the only thing at Community Table that is local.
The focal point of the space is a large wooden table that was designed and constructed by local firm Dunk & Bright Furniture. It can accommodate as many as 18 people on chairs made by local craftsman and AU alumnus Mark Shardlow. Hanging above the table is a lighting fixture created by yet another local figure, Tim DeWolfe at Wolfe Innovative Lighting and Furnishings. It was crafted from a recovered barn beam, while its glass globes were created by Angus Powers, professor of glass in AU’s world-renowned School of Art and Design. Even the plates from which guests enjoy the meals prepared in Community Table’s amply furnished and equipped kitchen were crafted by ceramic art students and faculty.
Community Table often hosts special events and pop-ups.
Visitors are drawn to Community Table for events such as cooking classes with topics such as making authentic pierogi, housemade breads and jams, from-scratch pastas and savory sauces. The campus has also been treated to pop-up events at Community Table featuring fish fry dinners, gourmet grilled cheese and Italian night as well as a taco and fajita bar. Other dinners have featured businesses owned by AU alumni, such as a microbrewery and a coffee roaster, dinners that paired those specialties with meals prepared by the campus culinary team, which is operated by management company AVI Foodsystems.
In addition to guest businesses, teams from AU’s College of Business have held three pop-up restaurants so far as their semester projects, treating fellow students to subs, falafel and halal chicken.
“They [pop-ups] introduce an unexpected variable to food that can be kind of regular,” comments one student, Seth Steele, a senior ceramic engineering major. “It’s a completely different dish. It’s a single serving, but the portions are way bigger. It’s more personal—made just for you.”
“There’s always a food you can’t get your hands on anywhere else in Alfred,” adds another student, Ashley Wilmier, a senior materials science and engineering major. “And the portions are huge. I haven’t had a disappointing pop-up ever.”
Both Steele and Wilmier have also taken advantage of the cooking classes, learning skills such as how to make bread, including international flatbreads, and chicken wings. Steele says he even took a class on knife skills, and adds that the things learned in these classes will come in handy after he leaves school. “This has taught me a lot of skills,” he observes. “I could put together a nice spread if I had to entertain.”
Pop-up events such as this beer tasting featuring local companies and AU alumni-led businesses are a staple of the Community Table events calendar.
Though the focus of The Community Table is obviously on food, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t also participate in the academic side of things. For example, Dave Marsh, associate professor of chemistry, held his chemistry of baking honors class at the venue the past two spring semesters while AVI, operating on campus as AU Fresh, invites participants to participate in a regular AU Fresh Forum to discuss and offer feedback on the university’s dining program.
The Community Table has also helped with charitable endeavors on campus as well, hosting fundraising events such as the Gail Walker Book Fund and the Cultural Bowl. In addition, local artists have displayed their artwork in the space as part of the popular Alfred Art Walk, and AU Fresh holds food-themed photography contests in it.
“One of the things [Community Table has] added to campus is the connection between staff and students,” Steele notes. “It really improves relationships, lets students understand the knowledge [the foodservice staff] have and the things they can do. We eat with faculty, staff and community members. It’s a chance for everyone to get together. We wouldn’t be able to do that otherwise.”
That’s music to the ears of John Dietrich, AVI’s resident director.
“The Community Table seeks to bring anyone in the community together to celebrate each other through preparing and enjoying a meal,” he says. “My favorite events are those that include students, grad students, faculty, staff and Alfred area community members. It’s always great when alumni are at events.”