Alumni Profiles:
Stanley Felsinger ’66
George Whipple 3d ’77
Ken Tamashiro ’76
Jonathan Blank ’86 and Barclay Powers ’86
Roya Babanoury ’92

Washington Chef Pleases Alumni Palates

What makes a professional chef knock himself out on his day off to prepare a free gourmet dinner for 20 alumni? And what makes him do this several Saturdays a year?

 For Ken Tamashiro '76, it's the example set by retired history Professor James Shenton '49, who used to treat students in his senior seminar to elegant restaurant dinners at the end of every semester.

 "That gesture of Shenton's is one of the reasons for the dinners I have," says Tamashiro, who has trained in some of France's finest restaurants and runs an executive dining room at the Federal National Mortgage Administration. 

Not only did the Shenton dinners add to Tamashiro's then-growing interest in fine cuisine, they also made him want to give back, somehow, to Alma Mater. So a few years ago, Tamashiro started hosting Washington D.C.'s Columbia Dinner Group several times a year. Tamashiro hosted his 19th dinner on Saturday, December 19, with a 1940s theme that included Big Band music, Rodgers and Hammerstein show tunes and period dancing.

"By offering this as a free meal I realized I could on the one hand do my part to contribute to the Columbia alumni network, but that I was also helping people--especially recent graduates--who maybe couldn't afford one of these meals if it was served in a restaurant," he says.

Ken Tamashiro '76
Anyone in the nation's capital with a Columbia connection who's lucky enough to meet Tamashiro is likely to receive an invitation. One recent dinner featured about 20 people--several men and women from various classes, and a healthy sprinkling of folks from the various graduate and professional schools. Some of the people had never even met Tamashiro; he'd picked their names from an alumni directory and summoned them with a letter urging them to come for "lively conversation and a sampling of my labor as a working chef and culinary historian."
The delicacies Tamashiro serves his alumni guests make them fully aware of how lucky they are. One menu featured a savory pumpkin soup followed by a rosemary-laced boeuf bourgignon served with hearty red wines. The desert selection always includes some kind of cheesecake, a bow to the various ethnic cheesecakes Shenton brought to his senior seminars for the students' enjoyment.
Tamashiro started off hosting about eight people in his small apartment on New Hampshire Avenue in downtown Washington.
"Everyone was always amazed at the quantity of the food and the quality of the food, and all of this coming out of a kitchen that two people could barely fit in," says Paul Chaconas '77, who has been on the guest list since the early days. As the guest list grew, Tamashiro started using his apartment building's spacious party room and kitchen. But he still does most of the cooking in his own tiny kitchen, without showing signs of stress.
"The man obviously enjoys what he's doing," Chaconas says.
Tamashiro says Columbia gave birth to his two passions--history and cooking. He came to love history by studying with Shenton. He started to enjoy cooking when he opted out of the John Jay meal plan and had to rely instead on a hot plate in his Carman dorm room. These days, he dreams of opening a cooking school in Hawaii and talks of working with Shenton on updating a 1970s cookbook about ethnic cuisine in America.
But for now, there are pleasant evenings in store for alumni in the D.C. area.
"The good news or the bad news," Tamashiro says, "is that the latest alumni directory has more than doubled my potential guest list."
Judy Mathewson