EWING -- The pizza was topped with mushrooms, bleu cheese and truffle. The Reuben sandwich had jackfruit, not corned beef. And a tasting bar dished out roasted crickets, cheddar insect larvae, fried frog legs, alligator sausage and snapper soup.
The College of New Jersey on Tuesday traded in traditional dining hall fare for more adventurous options, part of an event designed to showcase the connection between science and food.
The "Tree of Life: Exploring Biodiversity through Cuisine" event, a collaboration between the college's School of Science and dining services, had been in the works for nine months.
"Our goal is to really bring the importance, the impact and the excitement of science to the campus community and to the public ... and do it in a creative, fun, accessible and delicious way," said Jeffrey Osborn, dean of the School of Science.
Organizers created a "biologically diverse" menu with 149 ingredients from the evolutionary tree of life, which much like someone's family tree, shows how living and extinct organisms are related to one another.
The three major branches are bacteria, archaea and eukaryotes, which includes animals, fungi and plants.
"We wanted to get as many different kinds of organisms that are eaten across that tree of life," Osborn said.
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The 10 stations featured foods like smoked salmon and avocado spring roll, Italian roast beef with plum tomatoes, cumin roasted lamb, unlikely pizza topping pairings and desserts made with fruits that grow on insect-pollinated plants.
"The crickets were pretty good," student Christopher Ferrante said. "They taste like Cheetos."
"They weren't as bad as we thought it was going to be," senior Sarah Wallin said. "I think sour cream and onion was the best flavor."
Handouts and boards gave attendees an explanation of the tree of life and a rundown of the meals, while biology students served as field guides, helping people understand the science behind the food.
The event also included a lecture by Nyree Zerega, a Chicago-based botanist whose current research focuses on tropical tree crops and their relatives in Southeast Asia and the Indo-Pacific Islands, including breadfruit and jackfruit -- two items that were featured on the menu.
Osborn says he hopes students, faculty and others walked away with a newfound appreciation for "this aspect of science, how organisms are related ... and how diverse organisms are."
It was the second such event the School of Science put on with dining services. In 2013, a "Compounds and Cuisine" event focused on molecular gastronomy.
Cristina Rojas may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @CristinaRojasTT. Find NJ.com on Facebook.
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