URBANA, Ill. – Maybe you share Jenny Gulas’s passion for the sitcom Friends or you simply have an appetite for tasty food served in a clever setting. Either way, you’re sure to enjoy the hospitality management senior’s Friends-themed meal, which kicks off this spring’s Wednesday and Friday Spice Box series of student meals, planned and executed to perfection.
The Joliet senior’s encyclopedic knowledge of 10 years of Friends episodes and a trip to New York City to visit the Central Perk pop-up café have inspired her capstone evening. “It’s the culmination of everything I’ve learned in the past four years. I’ll actually get to run a restaurant and plan an event from top to bottom,” she said.
Why Friends? Gulas knew she didn’t want to be restricted to a particular food genre. Once the inspiration for a meal based on her favorite comedy occurred, she began jotting down menu and decoration ideas.
From Phoebe’s winter wedding salad (featuring pears, walnuts, and gorgonzola), to salmon with lemon risotto (named after Ross’s shirt that everyone said was pink but he insisted was—salmon), to a chocolate mousse and strawberry trifle inspired by (but not identical to) one of Rachel’s interesting Thanksgiving desserts, Friends fans will recall some of the show’s most memorable moments and engage in pleasant nostalgia. (This isn’t the entire menu. To learn more, you’ll have to make a reservation.)
The decorations too are inspired by familiar Friends settings. Here Gulas was helped immeasurably by a day trip to New York she made with her mom “when we found out about the Central Perk pop-up café, which was only open for a month.” She brought back mugs, aprons, picture frames, and other memorabilia that will help her re-create not only Central Perk but also representations of Monica’s and Joey’s apartments. There’s more, much more, but you’ll have to see it for yourself.
The senior became interested in hospitality management in high school when she worked as an event staff waitress at the Jacob Henry Mansion in Joliet.
“The University of Illinois was always the school I wanted to go to. When I learned that U of I had a hospitality management program and knew I’d be able to major in something I loved, I was convinced. I have really enjoyed my classes and learned so much, and the employment outlook is bright,” she said.
Gulas encourages the community to take advantage of these interesting and exciting dining experiences.
“When you attend these senior capstone evenings, you will never eat the same thing twice,” she said. “The themed meals offer so much variety and creativity. In my case, although I didn’t know it at the time, the planning for this meal was years in the making. Once I’d decided on my theme, the ideas just kept coming, thanks to years of Friends watching.”
A longstanding fixture on the U of I campus, the Spice Box, located on the second floor of Bevier Hall, is a working laboratory for students majoring in hospitality management in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition (FSHN).
Student themed meals are served on Wednesdays and Fridays through the spring semester. A complete list of the dates and meal themes is available on the Spice Box website at www.spicebox.illinois.edu. Full menus will be posted there as they become available. Interested persons can also be placed on an e-mail list that will keep them informed about upcoming offerings by submitting a request at www.spicebox.illinois.edu/contact .
Each dining event offers either a four-course meal, including salad, appetizer, featured entrée, and dessert, or a two-course salad and entree combination. A specialty alcoholic beverage and a regular wine list are also offered. Price varies according to menu, and the meals are available by reservation only. Reservations are available at 5, 5:30, 6, 6:30, 7, and 7:30 p.m.
To reserve seating for any of these fine dining experiences, call 217-333-6520.