One of the foremost and recurring struggles College Chefs faces as a company is how to accurately represent the value of what we do amidst a sea of bad publicity. I’m not talking about publicity focused on our company, I’m talking about a long-standing and ever-expanding PR campaign (largely informed by lazy news coverage) which seems to do nothing more than endlessly attack our client-base.
We serve fraternities and sororities. And, unfortunately, the spectrum of coverage that sororities and fraternities usually get in the media ranges from sensational at its best to downright untrue at its worst. Our struggle then becomes fighting a sort of image which is both detrimental to the existence of our clients and largely untrue.
Into this public battle a witty, sardonic, passionate Chef in Seattle, Washington has recently stepped. Her name is Darlene Barnes and she’s written a memoir titled, “Hungry: What Eighty Ravenous guys Taught Me about Life, Love & the Power of Good Food” in which she recounts her time as a fraternity Chef for the Alpha Sigma Phi house in Seattle.
The book is somewhat deceptive. A cursory glance at the title instills expectations of late-night party accounts, hazing horror stories, and a general amalgamation of all terrible things many people believe to be common occurrences in the Greek world.
What Darlene delivers, however, is something vastly different – in short, it’s the truth.
The book is equal parts wit and profoundly honest emotional exploration – both of Darlene herself and the young men she came to know and love. Chapters conclude with recipes which hold certain emotional weight with Darlene as each is punctuated by the story that accompanied her learning of the dish.
Hungry is not without its more common Greek tropes, however. There are moments in which Darlene struggles with some of the more expected aspects of Greek life (the unwillingness of young men to clean up after themselves, the hygienic destruction a late-night party causes on her kitchen the following day, and the influence of alcohol to name a few). But, although these facets are present, they are nowhere near the core of this memoir.
At its heart, the book is about redemption. Some years before Darlene came to work for the Alpha Sigs, she found herself largely without purpose. She was displaced geographically and emotionally and in an act mostly informed by a lack of any better options, she decided to give the job of Fraternity Chef a try. She did so with minimal expectations and very few preconceived notions about the young men she’d come to know.
What resulted from Darlene’s time in the house was nothing short of an emotional and spiritual awakening, both for herself and the young men she served.
The cast of characters in this memoir are wonderfully drawn, each memorable and distinct from the others. There are true heroes, such as the governing body of the house who would become Darlene’s greatest asset. There are also a number of antagonists, like the food suppliers who Darlene struggled with for years before they’d finally come to accept her insistence on preparing fresh, non-processed, high quality food.
If there is one criticism that can be leveled against the book it’s that the cast seems more fluid than it would in most memoirs. Characters seem to come and go without much emphasis on the emotional toll that their absence took on Darlene. But, even that I would say is an accurate reflection of how it truly feels to cook for fraternity and sorority students. After some time, one must simply accept that they are employed in a revolving door establishment and there’s not much that can be done about it. Darlene does a good job of compensating for this truth by highlighting her continued relationships with some of the young men, long past their graduation.
It’s rare that someone steps into our world and does such a wonderful job of relaying the truth about it. It’s even rarer that such a portrayal is worthwhile for people not at all connected to the Greek system. But Darlene Barnes has accomplished both in her book. If you’re looking for a memoir that features a stunningly broad emotional range, a wonderfully unique narrator, and an accurate recounting of the struggles that all young men and women (regardless of their Greek affiliation or lack thereof) face at a pinnacle moment in their lives, I'd highly recommend Darlene’s book. After reading it, I can honestly say I have a greater appreciation for the food I eat, the clients I serve, and the emotional turmoils I faced during one of the seminal moments of my life.
“Hungry: What Eighty Ravenous Guys Taught Me about Life, Love & the Power of Good Food” will be released on August 6th, 2013 and is currently available for pre-order on amazon.com. If you'd like to hear more, check out our interview with Darlene Barnes in which she explores some of the influences behind the book and much more!
- Joel Higgins