Monday, Nov. 6, the College of William and Mary’s Wellness Center set aside its usual tranquility for an evening of charismatic cooking led by a culinary prodigy whose talents have taken him to work at a Michelin-starred restaurant and even learn from the legendary Gordon Ramsay.
Upon arriving at the Wellness Center’s second floor kitchen, students and faculty members alike were greeted by an event already in motion as the man of the hour hustled around the kitchen prepping ingredients and tending to boiling pots of water. Despite being preoccupied with a slew of different tasks, former Masterchef Legends contestant, Le Cordon Bleu London graduate and New York University adjunct professor of nutrition and food studies Abe Konick captivated the room with high energy, boyish charm and a booming voice.
The event, aptly titled “8D Cooking with Abe Konick,” focused on the intersections between financial wellness and food using the 8 Dimensions of Wellness model. To teach students how to make realistic meals on a budget, Konick presented a hands-on, live demo of two different types of ramen. One was an affordable version made using chicken-flavored Maruchan Ramen Noodle Soup, at less than a dollar per pack. The other was a more filling, higher-end version made using eggs, sesame seeds, seaweed, vegetables like corn and mushrooms, a whole chicken and a hearty mirepoix.
“I think that as college students, finance and food are pretty important to us, so having a class like this is a great resource to take advantage of for us,” attendee Kara Park ’26 said.
Konick walked students step-by-step through the dynamic cooking process, sprinkling in healthy servings of humor to keep the collective mood high. Striving to maintain high audience engagement, he asked the small crowd of attendees many questions and invited them to chop vegetables, peel eggs and taste-test different ingredients, such as a ready-made chicken bouillon that he recommended students buy in a jar rather than in cubes or a carton.
He also continually discussed the cost breakdown of each of the ingredients to make the meals more accessible for students, and he offered a wealth of handy, money-saving tips like recommending that students break down a whole chicken and save the broth for future meal prep by freezing large batches of it. Ensuring that nothing goes to waste in the kitchen was a major point of emphasis for Konick.
“Now, guys, also think about scraps, okay? This is another way where you can save a lot of money,” Konick said. “Okay, let’s say you peel your carrots, you have your onion skins. Don’t throw them out, alright? Don’t compost them. Keep them in your freezer in a plastic bag, alright? If you keep your celery, your carrot peelings and your onion peelings, you can just put it into a stock.”
Konick took care to also suggest lower sodium alternatives to those who may be concerned about their sodium intake, though he emphatically conveyed his love for salt throughout the demo.
“Do not be afraid to use salt, guys. It’s going to be your favorite secret weapon,” Konick said. “Okay, I think in the US, we tend to try to stay away from salt because it’s ‘not healthy.’ I disagree. I think it’s the best part.”
However, he made it clear that the concept of ‘healthiness’ has become deeply distorted and should instead be regarded as contextual and be based on each individual person’s needs and perceptions.
“Healthy is a very loaded word, okay? Who determines what is healthy? Nobody knows,” Konick said. “This is what we like to say is ‘nutritionally beneficial’ for you.”
These holistic notions of health are similarly held by Wellness Center Ambassador Anne Ryan Gareis ’25, who brought the event to life by reaching out to Konick this past March in hopes of combining her two passions for the culinary arts and wellness. She says Konick responded within mere minutes, and ever since, the two had been working together to create a lesson plan that was engaging, informative, relatable to students and connected to the Wellness Center’s 8 Dimensions model.
“I watched Abe on MasterChef, and then before coming to William and Mary, I worked as a pastry chef, so since being a Wellness Ambassador, I always wanted to blend the two worlds,” Gareis said. “That’s kind of hard because I feel like that usually goes in a very negative direction when you start talking about health and wellness and food, so I wanted [the event] to be more authentic to what cooking actually is.”
Not just a one-woman show, Gareis received mentorship from professor of religious studies Mark McLaughlin, who attended the event not only to try the ramen, but also to support Gareis. He explained that as her advisor for her independent study on food and yoga, he had helped Gareis explore her academic interests in health, diet and their intersections.
“She’d taken a class on yoga and control with me, and meditation and wellness, and, for her, diet figures quite strongly into those practices, and certainly in the traditions that we’re studying, diet figures in quite strongly, so she wanted to learn more about that,” McLaughlin said.
As the event came to a close, student attendees eagerly chatted amongst themselves and took turns taking selfies with Konick, seemingly satiated by two full bowls of ramen each and a celebrity encounter to top it off.
“[The ramen] is awesome,” McLaughlin said. “I love it, it’s really good. I love the broth and the mushrooms the best.”
Upon seeing months of behind-the-scenes coordination and a day’s worth of set-up preparation come into fruition, Gareis shared what she hoped attendees took away from the event.
“I just want them to have a good experience, basically get some good food, meet a cool person and just kind of remind themselves how cooking can be a really joyous activity instead of just another checkbox,” Gareis said. “[Cooking] can be very stressful, which is valid in terms of finances, but just seeing how you can add a little bit more joy into it, even when you have some limitations on it.”