Campus cop dishes up tasty lessons
“Food With the 5-0” connects campus police, students
“This looks like a fancy dinner party,” one student mused as he surveyed the generous spread of spicy Thai noodles, seven-layer bean dip, cream cheese and pepper jelly and blue cheese ranch dip.
Lt. Steve Miller stood nearby, hands resting on his duty belt, watching the students in Woodland Lodge dig in to the food they had just prepared with him.
Miller is a 15-year veteran of the Indiana University Police Department at IU Southeast. He’s also a talented cook who passes along his love of the culinary arts to IU Southeast students.
Once a semester, Miller offers a cooking lesson to students living in the campus lodges.
The idea came to him shortly after the lodges opened and IUPD began receiving frequent calls of burnt food tripping the alarms.
“These kids really need to know how to cook a little bit so at least they’re not burning food,” Miller said. “I’m not going to turn them into Julia Child, but at least they’ll know how to whip up a grilled cheese without setting off a fire alarm.”
Now in its third year, Miller’s “Food with the 5-0” has taught students how to prepare cheap and easy dishes such as breakfast foods, Mexican cuisine, cold appetizers and grilled cheese.
“The pancake one was fun, watching them flip pancakes,” he said. “No matter how good a cook you are, your first pancake is a wreck. The second one comes out better.”
Miller’s experience in the kitchen began out of utility as a young boy. His father passed away when Miller was 4 years-old, and his mother worked a full-time job to support the family.
“I found out that by the time I was 6 or 7, if I wanted to eat something that I actually wanted to eat, I had to learn to make it myself,” he said. “I became very independent very quickly.”
His first-ever dish? Scrambled eggs.
“Honestly, I don’t even like eggs,” he laughed. “But they say that’s the test of a cook, cooking just an egg and seeing how well you do on that.”
After retiring from a 13-year career with the New York Police Department, Miller ran the kitchen at a bed and breakfast in upstate New York for a year. The breakneck pace of a business open 365 days a year taught Miller how to quickly prepare high volumes of food at a time.
“It was a hellacious amount of work,” he said. “We were always open and always cooking.”
At IU Southeast, Miller makes a conscious effort to focus his lessons on dishes that are budget-friendly for college students. He estimated the cold appetizers prepared at the most recent “Food With the 5-0” lesson cost fewer than $6 per dish.
“The other thing I thought about with the cold appetizers is that it encourages students to get together and have a pitch-in,” he said. “They can see that each dish can be made in 10 minutes.”
Miller makes his lessons easy, interactive and, most of all, informative.
“I tell them to use the correct heat on the stove,” he said. “That prevents a lot of scorching and burning and aggravation. A lot of times, they seem to put everything on high and walk away from it. “
Miller said students often approach their first attempt at cooking as if they’re diffusing a bomb.
“We see a lot of kids that aren’t all that independent at first, and I think this is a good thing to help them become more independent,” he said.
“Food With the 5-0” is one of many ways IUPD officers are actively involved with bettering IU Southeast’s campus community.
Each year, during the holiday season, officers team up with student organizations to help provide gifts to local children in need. Shop With a Cop enables 18 students from Grant Line Elementary School in New Albany to each spend an allotted amount of money on clothing and toys.
The IUPD also hosts Coffee With a Cop during IU Southeast’s Week of Welcome each fall. Students are encouraged to grab a free cup of coffee and a cookie (homemade by Lt. Steve Miller, of course) and get to know their campus law enforcement officers.
Miller’s tasty treats are making an impact of their own. He often gets recognized on campus as “the cop who makes those cookies.”
He hopes the cooking, coffee and community service helps diffuse the stereotype that law enforcement officers are stand-offish and uninvolved.
“It’s a good way to interact with students and let them know we’re humans,” he said. “I’m working at a university. I want to interact with students in a positive way as much as possible.”