Barnes and two of her brothers.

Barnes and two of her brothers.

Brotherly Grub

Female chefs who ply their trade in college fraternities are an atypical breed. Rarer still are chefs of any gender who adhere to a code of culinary ethics that involves cooking everything from scratch, shunning industrial producers, and using fresh, local ingredients whenever possible.

Alpha Sigma Phi’s Darlene Barnes may be the only chef in America—or at least at the University of Washington—who belongs to both clubs.

“The norm [for cuisine] in the Greek world is premade lasagna and prebreaded chicken,” says Barnes, who ran a catering business in Dallas before moving north and taking the Alpha Sig gig four years ago. Chapter president Alex Badley describes the Greek Row status quo in a slightly more frat-like manner: “I saw another fraternity’s dinner, and it was brown and sloppy—maggots and gravy.”

Barnes cooks alone (although former Seattle P-I food writer Leslie Kelly assisted her during fall quarter) for up to 75 hungry Huskies each night, at a weekly budget of $48 per head. While that’s on the high end by Greek-system standards, it’s still phenomenally frugal when you consider what Barnes’ entrées consist of, and that the locavore/back-to-the-earth movement is widely considered the exclusive domain of the well-heeled.

On the Wednesday before finals week, Badley and fraternity brother Zach Parsons kept Barnes company as she prepared a meal of kale, twice-baked potatoes, squash from Carnation’s Full Circle Farms, and “Mexican pot roast”—the heat provided by the presence of cumin and serrano chilies. It turns out Barnes had originally planned to serve short ribs from Snake River (Idaho) Farms, but the shipment had come in too late to prepare to Barnes’ specifications. So she quickly audibled and ordered the pot roast from Creekstone Farms in Kansas, a U.S. Food Service supplier “that’s doing business in a way I support,” writes Barnes on her blog, The ensuing meal—especially the squash—tasted like it lived a whole lot closer to heaven’s ZIP code than the 98105, where walk-in freezers are typically stacked high with processed fare.

While her nightly customers might not grasp the ideological extent to which Barnes goes to get their food on the table, they appreciate its flavor to the point where it’s become a pledge-recruiting tool. “We emphasize [during Rush] that Darlene’s food is above the rest,” says Badley.

But that’s not to say Alpha Sigs is without its foodies. One freshman, Matt Watson, constructed a functional wood-fired pizza oven in high school for a class project, and Barnes buys wild game from another member whose dad is an avid hunter. In fact, the moose chili she’s planning to serve for supper on Thursday will come directly from that source.

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