by Chris Killian

Nathan Gilmour '12 is taking large bites out of life, chewing heartily and swallowing with a huge grin.

And he’s only on his first meal.

You see, Gilmour, 22, views life as a smorgasbord. And he intends on sampling everything.

 “A lot of people say, ‘Oh, I wish I could do that, that looks so cool,’” said the Kalamazoo College senior. “I say just go for it. I mean, why not? There’s nothing to lose.”

On a whim during his study abroad in Germany last spring, Gilmour sent an e-mail to Dario Cecchini, a world famous butcher who operates three restaurants and a butcher shop in the tiny town of Panzano, tucked away in an idyllic corner of the Italian province of Tuscany.

Like many foodies around the world, Gilmour wanted to work with Cecchini to learn the old ways of butchering and preparing authentic, rustic Italian food with basic, homegrown ingredients—non-contrived cuisine prepared with knowledge that goes back generations.

He got word back from Cecchini—featured in several books and on the hit TV show No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain—a week after he sent the e-mail.
“He wrote: ‘You get August,’” Gilmour said. “That was it. I had to find out how to get there, but I was about to go work with a master.”

During his month in Panzano in summer 2011, he worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week, most of the time in the 38-degree air of a huge cooler where the butchering took place. No one knew English, so Gilmour learned by being shown what to do.

It takes three years to learn how to butcher a whole cow the traditional way, Gilmour said.

But there was also time to savor the pleasures of food that surrounded him. Gilmour ate “like a king,” he said. Among several dishes, mouth-watering in their simplicity, that he tried was Sushi d’ Chianti, a kind of steak tartar, a dish of ground pieces of beef with lemon juice, garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper.

“It was the best thing I’ve ever had,” he said. “My sweat was in that food.”

Everything was local, from the meat to the wine to the bread. He even made raw salt, mixed with herbs that grew nearby. 

The whole experience was made possible by a stipend from the College’s Center for Career and Professional Development. If not for that money, Gilmour said, his amazing experience would not have been possible.

“I’ve been working with food for as long as I can remember,” Gilmour said. “My mom and grandparents taught me everything I know. Food is the lens through which I see the world, it’s how I communicate with others.

“I dig on people coming together and communicating, with the food being the medium. It’s about cooperation in cooking. It’s alchemy.”

Other adventures

Working in Tuscany wasn’t the first time that Gilmour had traveled during his time at “K.” He spent the Fall quarter of his sophomore year doing a three-part internship in Philadelphia, where he worked with a professional photographer, shot concert photos as a stringer for the Philadelphia Weekly newspaper, and booked shows at Johnny Brenda’s, a popular indie rock venue.

In his junior year, while on his study abroad in Erlangen, Germany, he took trips to Paris, Prague, and Turkey, a nation he fell in love with, so much so that he applied to get into the U.S. State Department’s Critical Languages Program for Turkish. It’s an intense six- to eight-week program that’s equivalent to a year of study.

“I can’t wrap my head around the place,” he said of Turkey. “It’s full of mystery.”

He also applied for a Fulbright Scholarship to teach English to Turkish nationals in Germany. Gilmour has a love for languages and admits he learns them quickly. He speaks fluent German, is proficient in Spanish, and understands French and Italian.

In 2009, Gilmour received the inaugural [Professor Emeritus of Philosophy] David Scarrow award. Funded by Joseph “Josh” Stulberg ’67, the award supports three philosophy majors over a six-year period.

Gilmour says sometimes feels he studies “too many things.” His academic life consists of German studies, philosophy (with a concentration in critical theory) and a minor in fine art (with a focus in photography).

Island life

He was raised on Vashon Island, Wash., located in Puget Sound. No bridges connect the island of 10,000 residents to the mainland, which Gilmour admits could make a person feel a bit isolated.

There are no “Christmas tree (traffic) lights” on the island, he said, only flashing red ones. Island life, he says, changes
"'K' has made all the difference."
a person.

“They have a saying on the island, ‘When you’re a kid, you always want to leave, but when you leave, you always want to come back,’” he said. “Everybody knows everyone. When you leave, you carry the feeling you get there with you.”

When he looked for a college to attend, he first set his sights close to home. He thought about Lewis and Clark College and Reed College—both in Portland, Oregon—but felt he didn’t feel at home at either place.

Then he read Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools You Should Know About Even If You're Not a Straight-A Student. “K” was among the 40 schools. A visit by Eric Staab, Kalamazoo College’s dean of admission and financial aid, when he was in the Pacific Northwest on a recruitment trip, sold Gilmour on “K.”

So Gilmour and his parents flew to Kalamazoo in April of 2008 for a visit. It was that awkward time for Mother Nature in Michigan, the transition between winter and spring.

“The trees were all gross and the campus looked like Hell with all these mountains of dirty snow,” Gilmour said. “But it felt like home.”

He spent his first night in a dorm room with a “K” student, sat in on some classes the next day and spoke to faculty and staff. After his first day on campus, he told his parents: “This is it. This is where I want to go.”

So, even with full-ride scholarships to Fordham University in New York City and the University of Washington in Seattle, he decided on “K.”

“Like many young people, I just needed to get away,” Gilmour said. A significant scholarship from the College helped out, too.

To say that he made the right decision might be an understatement.

“Kalamazoo College has given me so much direction and opened so many doors it’s unbelievable,” he said. “‘K’ has made all the difference.”

Photo 1
- Nathan Gilmour on the Nebelhorn, a mountain in southern Germany

Photo 2 - On a visit to Prague, the Czech Republic

Photo 3 - Gilmour (back row, left) with Professor Emeritus of Philosophy David Scarrow and  his wife, Janet (both seated) and Josh Stulberg ’67 and his wife, Midge

Photos 4 and 5 - Meat photos! The kind a foodie/butcher likes, and takes.

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