Since returning from a trip to Europe in September, Oregon State University senior Jillian Grant has tried and failed to find food that tastes like the cuisine she sampled in Greece.
"The food was so good, but nothing else has compared," she said.
Then Grant stopped by Taste of the Mediterranean, a University Housing and Dining-sponsored culinary event held Wednesday evening at Marketplace West Dining Center.
She filled plates with humus, baba ganoush - a baked eggplant dish - and grape leaf-wrapped dolmas, and changed her tune about American-prepared Greek fare: the food, she said, was "amazing."
The event is one of two annual University Housing and Dining culinary events in the "Journey Through Culture and Cuisine" series. Organizers expected about 800 attendees - OSU students and employees, along with people not associated with the university.
Rich Turnbull, associate director for University Housing and Dining, said the university's culinary team had prepared for Wednesday's event for the last six months by researching the region's traditional ingredients and techniques.
"It was almost like going through a history of the spice trade," Turnbull said. "We're really trying to be as close to authentic as possible."
The culinary team also brought on board staff from the local Middle Eastern restaurant Bazaar International Market to offer side dishes for Wednesday's event.
University Housing and Dining hosted a Mediterranean-themed dining event two years ago, but the focus was on foods of Southern Europe. Wednesday's offerings stretched into the regions farther east and south - Greece, Turkey and North Africa - to cater to the growing number of undergraduates from the Middle East.
Chefs also crafted dishes that would work well on small plates to encourage attendees to taste unfamiliar fare: Chicken Tangier from Morocco to Spanish-style calamari. All together, the event featured 20 different plates, including several gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan items.
"We're trying to give them food they normally wouldn't see," said Jeff LaMagra, University Housing and Dining's director of culinary development.
And many attendees tried as much as they could, like freshmen Chanel Bourdeau and Maddie Griggs.
"We have everything," Griggs said, looking at a heaping tray of small plates.
"Well, we haven't hit the desserts yet," Bourdeau reminded her. Only a few feet away awaited the rich, layered Greek baklava, the custardy Spanish flan and French sable cookies.
Contact Gazette-Times reporter Gail Cole at 541-758-9510 or email@example.com.